Facial Recognition Tests End in Failure

In this week's Cybershake, we note how security officials are turning away from a security technology that received a prime amount of face time two years ago. Plus, we take a look at how to navigate the draw — and drawbacks — of online shopping.

Red-Faced Over Facial Technology?

Facial recognition systems made big news when it was installed on the streets of Tampa, Fla., in 2001. The technology allows for cameras to scan crowds of people and, using computer software, automatically matches faces against a picture database of known criminals.

And after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, airports such as Boston's Logan International, were interested in exploring if facial recognition could help screen against potential hijackers and trouble makers.

But two years later, it seems the promise of such systems is still nothing more than just promise.

Recently, government officials in Tampa removed the camera system from its streets, citing that it had failed to recognize any known criminals wanted by authorities there. A spokesman for the Tampa police department told The Associated Press, "It's just proven not to have any benefit for us."

The same is apparently true for authorities at the Logan International Airport in Boston.

"Back in January of 2002, we had a pilot program where we tested two separate facial recognition technologies at two separate checkpoints," says Jose Juves, a spokesman for the airport. The conclusion, he says: "It wasn't ready for primetime."

Juves and other airport officials say the system was just too costly and didn't seem to offer any significant advantages over less technical solutions.

"One of the things we found was that the technology itself was very labor intensive," says Juves. "It really involved someone sitting at a computer terminal and matching up the faces to the ones that appeared on the screen."

Logan airport officials also noted that law enforcement agencies lack a complete digital image database of known or suspect terrorists, further limiting the usefulness of facial recognition.

Although Juves says the technology shows promise, "it just wasn't ready for implementation at that time."

— Larry Jacobs, ABCNEWS

Tips for Online Shopping

Summer's over. The kids are back at school. The weather's turning cooler. That means the busiest season for shopping is coming up. And if you're thinking about taking the plunge to shop online, beware the difference — and drawbacks.

"It's trickier to [shop online] than in a store because you can't feel everything, you can't hold it up to the light, you can't check for holes," says Michelle Slatalla, who writes an online shopping column for the New York Times.

The good news, though, is that some Web sites have top quality brands at substantial discounts from the brick and mortar stores. But Slatalla suggests that virtual shoppers should check the sites' returns policies just in case you want to send the stuff back.

Says Slatalla: "You have to make sure the quality is OK, that it's the right size, that you are checking the fine print on the Web page site before you click [the] 'buy' [button]."

And the fine print can be confusing. Sites often charge return fees and almost all will add a shipping fee, says Slatalla.

Still, "I've gotten some good deals," says Slatalla. "But the problem is you have to make sure you really need it."

— Richard Davies, ABCNEWS

Cybershake is produced for ABCNEWS Radio by Andrea J. Smith.