Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A blog for PIs and writers/readers of the PI genre

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Posts Tagged ‘kindle nonfiction books’

Here’s Looking at You Kid: Facial Recognition Software

Posted by Writing PIs on June 19, 2013

Do You Drive in the U.S.?  Your Image Is in a Facial Recognition Database

driver-license-cardIf you have a driver’s license in the U.S., your driver’s license photo is already stored in a law enforcement database. According to sources such as CBS Money Watch, this database contains over 120 million searchable photographs, of which Americans’ drivers’ license photos are a subset. What kind of information can be culled from a driver’s license and associated driving history records?  A person’s home address, employer, social security number, height, weight, speeding tickets, car accidents, warrants for failures to appear on any driving-related offenses,  DUI and drug offenses…and more.

This database is of course a boon in identifying terrorists, criminals, accomplices and suspects.  But is it possible that the facial recognition software in this database might analyze a blurry, badly lighted surveillance image and mistakenly align the pixels of a suspect’s face to yours?  Or could the algorithm review your driver’s license photo and link it to another person’s driver’s license photo, saying you are both actually the same person, who is a suspect for committing identify fraud?


A Man Is Mistakenly Identified for Fraud

In 2011, John Gass was identified by a facial recognition software program as a suspect for fraud. Out of the blue, he received a letter from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles informing him he could no longer drive his car because his driver’s license had been revoked. After many phone calls and a hearing with Registry officials, Gass learned his face had been identified by an anti-terrorism facial recognition database as being a fraud, more specifically an individual who was using multiple driver’s licenses for the purpose of committing fraud.  Gass had never committed fraud, hadn’t had a speeding ticket in years — his only “crime” was that he looked like someone else.

Gass then had to prove his identity in another hearing by showing such items as his social security card and birth certificate. Interestingly enough, the other man who the computer said Gass looked like, had already proven his identity, which left Gass holding the identity bag, so to speak, and he was asked to produce yet more documents showing other identifying information such as his address. The Registry informed him it was his burden to clear up the confusion, and that their protecting the public far outweighed any inconvenience Gass or anyone else might have clearing up any mis-identification problems.

According to an article about Gass’s facial mis-recognition case in The Boston Globe, he’s angry his license was revoked without even a hearing.  Because his work depends on his ability to drive, he also lost wages until he cleared his identity.  “No one is angry about the work they have to do to track fraud,”Gass said, “but once they saw the error, even the words sorry would go a long way. But I got nothing.  The overwhelming attitude was they couldn’t care less.’’

How Many States Allow Law Enforcement to Access This Database?

sheriffThe number varies.  According to The Boston Globe article mentioned above, at least 34 states.  In a more recent Time article, 26 states. Currently, most police officers do not need a warrant to run a person’s photo through the facial recognition database — all they need is a legitimate reason.  Oregon, Washington, New York and eight other states restrict police access to the database, and California does not currently have a facial recognition system in place.

One can only hope the facial recognition software doesn’t review a grainy, blurry surveillance camera image of a homicide suspect and decides it looks like you. Or me.

On the other hand, facial recognition software didn’t connect the CCTV images of the suspects in the recent Boston bombings to their identities.  Instead, people who had witnessed the suspects at the scene of the incident identified them.  Something we’ve learned in our business is that sometimes the old tried-and-true ways are the best ways.

Glasses That Prevent Your Face From Being Identified…Some of the Time

In an article posted today in Gizmodo, Japan’s National Institute of Informatics has developed a pair of glasses with seven LEDs that blasts near-infrared light to prevent facial characteristics being registered by facial recognition systems. However, these glasses don’t block cameras that are unaffected by infrared light.  Undoubtedly, there will be more feature-blocking products along this line.  Or maybe, like in the recent comic Private Eye by Marcos Martin and Brian K. Vaughan, people will view privacy as a sacred right and everyone dons a mask-like identity (to download a copy of this pay-what-you-want comic, click here).

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Stop Giving Away Your Personal Information to Google

Posted by Writing PIs on April 7, 2012

Unless you’ve been living in a black box, you’re aware that Google has been blithely tracking user activity on the Web. Below are a few recent articles on this subject (click on link to read an article):

Google Caught Tracking Safari Users: What You Need to Know

Google announces privacy changes across products; users can’t opt out

Did Google intentionally track you?

A warrior’s forum member had this stringent advice for stopping Google from tracking your web activities:

if you want to avoid Google knowing anything about you, stop using Google’s services. Like in Orson Well’s 1984 big brother wants to know everything. The more information you allow Google to know, they more control they gain over your life.

Okay, but some people do like to use Google — after all, it’s still the most comprehensive public, and free, search engine available. Fortunately, there are other options, as well as preventative measures, that people can take to protect Google from tracking their web activities.

How Trackable Is Your Browser?

Panopticlick, a research project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, tests your browser to see what information it shares with other sites. The service is free and anonymous.

A Few Tips for Protecting Your Browsing

Also, check out “Related Articles” at the bottom of this post.

Why Not Use a Proxy Service?

Although a proxy service, such as Anonymizer, hides a user’s IP address, it doesn’t necessarily anonymize the user’s personal information found in HTTP headers.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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Answering Writers’ Questions: What Records Can PIs Get via Databases or by Phone?

Posted by Writing PIs on March 20, 2012

Writer’s Question: I know private investigators have access to both proprietary and public online databases. What about obtaining a birth certificate? In my story, I need to reveal that no father was listed on suspect’s birth certificate, but from what I’ve read, these certificates are hard to get. Is that true? Maybe a private investigator could purchase one through a database or make a phone call to request one?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: No, one cannot get birth certificates through proprietary/public databases or by phone. One needs to have permission (power of attorney) from the parents or from the individual. Or, permission via a court order.

Writer’s Question: What about employment records? My amateur sleuth wants to compile another person’s work history — is there a way to do this?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Answer: Well, it’s possible to piece together some work history via proprietary/public databases, but this is getting more and more difficult due to identity theft legislation. There are some PIs who specialize in employment work histories (or they advertise they can retrieve such histories) but we’re not sure a legal means exists to get a complete work history. On the other hand, many people’s LinkedIn profiles (for example) reveal partial (sometimes full) work histories.  Sometimes other social media sites, such as Facebook, also show people’s work histories (that is, whatever the people wish to share via those sites).

Writer’s Question: Is it easy for PIs to find out what degrees a college graduate earned?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Answer: Colleges & other educational institutions will provide the dates and degrees earned for an individual. Anyone can call and request this information. Same with accreditation. Professional organizations will release (via phone call) the type of accreditation a person earned and the dates the person belonged to the organization.

Writer’s Question: I understand police records are generally only available for a brief time after an incident, which is when the press gets them. True?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: False. Most police agencies now keep records for a minimum of 5-7 years. Sometimes we have found that when a case is currently open, a police department might not release those records to us. However, recently we were able to obtain (via a written request…these forms are often online within the PD website) records for a case that was open.

Writer’s Question: I also understand that a PI can get only convictions, not arrests. True?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: False. Many state police agencies keep records of arrests and release them to the public upon request and fee payment. However, these records caution that they are not to be relied on as any indication of conviction.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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