Face recognition video test at Kennewick arena

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Face recognition technology that eventually could be used to identify criminals and terrorists will be tested Sept. 21 at the Toyota Center arena when the Tri-city Americans open their hockey season.

Researchers with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are testing the technology for the Department of Homeland Security, the Tri-City Herald reported Thursday.

Twenty volunteers will be the only people the cameras are trying to identify. Hockey fans who want to opt out can follow corridor signs to areas without cameras.

“If they didn’t want to be videotaped, they could very easily not be videotaped,” said Nick Lombardo, a PNNL project manager.

The test will use off-the shelf video cameras to evaluate prototype software the national lab in Richland is developing for Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate. It works to make technology available to police and federal agencies such as the Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

PNNL has purchased 46 seats at the arena for the test, said PNNL engineer Marcia Kimura. Information explaining the project has been mailed to season ticket holders.

It’s not the public’s faces that PNNL is interested in capturing. Rather, they’re trying to match still photos of PNNL staffers in the crowd.

“Basically the crowd is background,” Kimura said.

Half the staffers have been told to just do what they’d normally do at the game. But others have been given instructions to walk in a particular direction around the concourse at certain times or stand in a concession line.

All will wear monitoring ankle bracelets that will signal when they are close enough to a camera to potentially allow their face to be recognized. That will help researchers know at what point on a video that detection technology could be able to find them.

The video will be used to see how many of the 20 PNNL faces the technology can pick out of the crowd and also how many times the video picks out the face of a random member of the public.

A hockey fan’s face could be incorrectly identified. However, no names of people will be collected, said Patty Wolfhope, program manager at the Department of Homeland Security. And only government researchers, not the technology developers, will see the video.

The Toyota Center agreed to be the site for the video, one of several projects it has helped PNNL with in recent years. Lower-resolution video was collected at hockey games at the Toyota Center in 2008 for Department of Homeland Security work to develop screening for explosives.

The current work could provide information that is valuable as facilities are designed to better handle crowds, said Cory Pearson, executive director of VenuWorks, which operates the center. “It’s in everybody’s best interest.”

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