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Big Brother's got eyes everywhere

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Before fugitive Aum Supreme Truth cultist Makoto Hirata, 46, turned himself in at the Marunouchi police station in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on New Year's Eve, it was determined he had passed through JR Shinagawa station.

How do we know this? Because his image was eventually picked up and recorded by one of the security cameras mounted in the station.

But still, points out web newspaper J-Cast News (Jan 6), Shinagawa is a huge station through which an average of over 320,000 people a day pass through. So how could Hirata be picked out from the other 319,999 or so rail commuters that day?

Well, there are two possibilities. Either the cameras at the station are linked to a computerized "face recognition system" or Hirata was spotted by a human tasked with monitoring the passers-by. At face value, the latter appears unlikely as a dependable means of capturing a single face in the crowd.

The newspapers that reported the spotting of Hirata in Shinagawa did not offer an answer to the above question, using vague terms such as "the video image of a man who appeared to be Makoto Hirata." The Tokyo Metropolitan Police would only remark, "If a photo with a frontal view of someone's face were available, and if it were possible to search out a face (from a database) based on what the camera in the station picked up, then this might be possible."

Electronics manufacturer NEC, which introduced a face recognition system from 2002, told J-Cast News that "There are various conditions involved." During tests conducted in the U.S. in 2010, NEC's recognition system was rated the "world's best."

Face recognition, in a nutshell, operates by converting a frontal view of the face into a simulated three-dimensional image, creating a pattern that is unique as are fingerprints. The technology is already so well advanced that it is utilized by some smartphones as a "lock" to prevent misuse by anyone except the phone's owner. NEC technology (fingerprint and facial recognition) is utilized at airports, including at Narita and by Hong Kong's immigration department, to search for those on international wanted lists.

Facial recognition, which is said to be "96% to 97% accurate," is seen as an effective complement to fingerprint checking. It cannot be tricked by attempts at disguise such as wearing eyeglasses or growing a beard. However, accuracy depends to a large extent on the availability of the camera's capturing a frontal image; if only the profile is captured by the camera, accuracy may drop to 80% -- in some cases as low as 50%.

So law enforcement agencies and others are reminded of these limitations, with the disclaimer that while a facial recognition system may be able to pick out a person with physical similarities to a crime suspect, final verification "ultimately depends on the human eye."

Likewise, the identification of Hirata from the videos in Shinagawa station is believed to have been the result of painstaking efforts on the part of investigators rather than hi-tech gadgetry.

Nevertheless, authorities are viewing the new technology with increasing confidence. According to a source at Minato Ward-based Security Design-sha, a supplier of such technology, 3D facial recognition has reached the stage where it "can even make distinctions between identical twins."

One way the technology is being refined to achieve greater accuracy is through image enlargement technology. Just last month, NEC announced "super resolution technology" that could enlarge captured images fourfold with excellent clarity.

Currently according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, 56,000 security cameras had been installed in rail and subway stations nationwide. Metropolitan Tokyo bolstered its budget, adding 2,975 new cameras between 2004 and 2010.

However, objections have been raised that the use of such cameras constitute a violation of citizens' privacy. An association of attorneys in Fukuoka has issued a protest, questioning security camera effectiveness and maintaining there is no clear correlation between camera installation and crime prevention.

"The whittling away of privacy is having major side effects," the Fukuoka group asserts. "As far as the 'effectiveness' of security cameras, matters should be decided while calmly examining the numbers, without any preconceived opinions."

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

28 Comments
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I have absolutely no problem with this. The question is, is it legal?

Does the state have the right to track me without an obvious and clearly stated focused reason (Not the default:"Monitoring all gaijin for crime prevention", but a specific one for ex.: "Monitoring Ebisen for internet porn abuse")...

0 ( +3 / -3 )

"However, objections have been raised that the use of such cameras constitute a violation of citizens’ privacy."

Privacy has been under attack for a long time now. No more effectively than in the post 911 world of fear.

"I have absolutely no problem with this."

You should. Not only can something like this be used to track criminals, it can be used for repression. In most industrialized nations we are given "rights" which include some degree of privacy, protection from illegal search and the presumption of innocence.

Yet state run cameras allow people to be monitored most of the day while in public, constitute a form of monitoring and search, and are motivated by the assumption that the public needs to be watched, implying some degree of assumed public guilt.

The question is, is it legal?

Sadly it seems so. People who value true liberty should be speaking out. But then again, big brother is indeed watching isn't he.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

UK has hundreds of thousands of cameras now, thanks to terror plots in 80's and 90's. They have caught/convicted numerous people by proving their presence at specific locations. I'm not aware (yet) of any abuse of using these (welcome leads to stories to the contrary).

Since I'm not doing anything illegal (hmmm, OK I may have hit 52kmph in a 50kmph zone), I'm not specifically worried. I actually feel some comfort in the fact that presence of cameras SHOULD deter some criminals.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It cannot be tricked by attempts at disguise such as wearing eyeglasses or growing a beard.

A bad sun burn and or botox will mess it up.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

A bad sun burn and or botox will mess it up.

LOL! I was thinking of stage actors gimmicks like Groucho-style eyebrows and padding to push out one's cheeks. And a half-burned cigar (not necessarily lit) for effect.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I actually feel some comfort in the fact that presence of cameras SHOULD deter some criminals.

SHOULD, but don't. Studies have shown this. Crime does not go down by any real noticeable amount in areas with lots of CCTV; the only benefit is identification of the perpetrators is better enabled.

Besides, the idea in the article above is to help catch criminals while they continue to evade police.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Only as good as the quality of those who administer it.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I have huge problems with this. The simple fact is that 96 to 97% accurate SOUNDS good (personally I don't believe it), until you realise that faces are NOT like fingerprints. There are fun facial recognition programs on the net that match which celebrity you most look like and I'm apparently 98% of a Leonardo DiCaprio.. okay, these are just fun, but the mathematics behind them is the same as face recognition, measuring space between eyes, ratio of chin to forehead, etc... the fact is that one can have very similar ratios to a famous and good-looking person, and still look NOTHING like them. Add to this the fact that someone on the run is NOT likely to co-operatively stare full-on into a camera so they can get a good image and the chances are that they'll mostly be harassing innocent civilians who look "sortof" like a fugitive, while the criminal defeats hundreds of millions of yen worth of technology by wearing a cap and sunglasses (note that the article says that glasses aren't effective, but is specifically silent on the issue of sunglasses, which obscure vital facial features and are a very effective way of defeating this technology). The simple fact is that this is a massive invasion of privacy for little or no benefit.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Privacy has been under attack for a long time now. No more effectively than in the post 911 world of fear.

Yes and no. When people seldom had a range greater than 10 km, everyone knew just about everything about everyone -minutiae. If for some reason you passed into a new town, as an outsider, you would have been singled out from the moment you entered the town perimeter. People would have been very suspicious of you --as they should have been since you would have been an unknown entity.

If you would have sought to borrow money, you would have had to produce all kinds of information about yourself and had vouchers from many others to establish credibility and risk mitigation. It was like that for millennia.

It's purely a 20th century construct to expect privacy. This was aided by the migration from small towns into growing cities where most people were more or less anonymous to each other. That was an anomaly in human history.

So, let's not pretend that this is a new concept. It's not. Whether surveillance is a net positive or negative, is another story and it's worth studying.

Facial recognition has been advanced in particular by Gaming (gambling) enterprises to help them detect fraudsters (card counters, etc.) Facebook at all, are now getting really good at using disperate datapoint to ID people in photos.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A bad sun burn and or botox will mess it up.

No, but apparently WWi ship camo technology (Dazzle) can prove effective. That or Infrared light source (which is invisible to people but picked up by video as bright light)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So they determined he passed through Shinagawa station only after he turned himself in?

Yeah. This tech is really effective!

Got to agree with Frungy.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

As a few fellow readers pointed out, what good are those high tech cams do ? They didn't put out an APB on the dude. That guy had to insist on being arrested !!

Bet you the j cops got a good collection on gorgeous babes on file, may be they will publish that in a pictorial , at least that will recoup some $ invested on the caeras.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It took east Germany 40 years to get rid of the Stasi. And even those elderly in the West stil have vivid memories of their fear of the Gestapo. I think it is a sign of a complete lack of self-esteem or extreme paranoia to accept such a technology in one's home place. In Germany there are strict laws restricting supervision of private people, which is allowed if and only if there is a definite reason (with evidence that holds before a court) to suspect that their activities are dangerous or criminal.

Since my photograph is taken everytime I reach Japan and stored again and again in a data base, which is probably managed by unqualified people, who do not care to update it accordingly. As they instead use lots of old photos to hunt "criminal foreigners", chances are high that I could be suspected being someone looking a bit as I had looked some time ago. They will have plenty of errors based on misidentification of suspects.

There is a story of some psychosocial research done in the 19th century (I think in England), which could identify felons with about 99% or so, while misidentifying innocents as felons with only 0.1% or so. Something which sounds great in the beginning led to far more innocents being suspected than actual felons, since You must also take the rate of felons to peaceful citizens into account.

Furthermore, we all know that certain facial traits - like the shape of the eyes, their distance, the form of the nose and other parts of the physiology - are certainly strongly connected to the racial mix that we all have. I have a bad feeling about an automised security system that discriminates by race.

I have more than before the impression that Japan is still a few decades away from becoming a democracy, massively violating my basic rights. But wait - as a foreigner I don't have any human rights here either, thus it should be okay.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

1984, did become a reality more than 15+yrs ago. Just not in the way Orwell envisioned it.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

control 101...the FEAR factor. We'll keep you safe if you let us do this................

elementary, Watson.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Cameras also picked up the Aum dude at Osaka Station. Wonder if he wanted his face to be seen clearly, because in the views they showed on TV he was always looking directly into the cameras.

Heard on the radio last night where the FBI flies helicopters over many big cities in the U.S. to keep watch on the activities below. So no matter where you are nowadays, you're probably on candid camera somewhere.

Everytime I go to Shinjuku I know that I am being spied upon by the dozens of cameras that have been placed around the area. Never feel alone that way ... A lot of the street pimps in Shinjuku have vanished ... probably moved on to less-cameraized areas. But I still see yakuza occasionally on the streets. Guess they don't care if they are being watched or not. After all, it's part of their territory ...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Before fugitive Aum Supreme Truth cultist Makoto Hirata, 46, turned himself in at the Marunouchi police station in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on New Year’s Eve, it was determined he had passed through JR Shinagawa station. How do we know this? Because his image was eventually picked up and recorded by one of the security cameras mounted in the station."

The first statement must be a mistake. If his image was "eventually picked up," then AFTER he turned himself in it was determined that he had passed through Shinagawa.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Big Brother's got eyes everywhere

Hardly. The majority of public spaces in Japan aren't blanketed with CCTV the way they are in the U.K.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Johannes WeberJan. 13, 2012 - 06:19PM JST It took east Germany 40 years to get rid of the Stasi.

A bit of misstatement there. It took East Germany 40 years to get rid of the Soviets. Stasi was done for as soon as the Wall was breached.

The KGB, however, is another matter altogether. The name may have changed, but its "mission" didn't.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

warnerbroJan. 14, 2012 - 12:05AM JST The first statement must be a mistake. If his image was "eventually picked up," then AFTER he turned himself in it was determined that he had passed through Shinagawa.

You misunderstand the order of events. No one was looking for him any longer (a case not solved in 15-minutes after shaming a suspect or beating him with the Tokyo phone book is then considered a "cold case" in Japan), so they didn't realize that he had been caught on camera at Shinagawa Station until after reviewing the films.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I wonder how well it works with half the population wearing those surgical masks during cold and allergy seasons

3 ( +3 / -0 )

it is always possible to cheat any facial recognition algorithm, it is not true that they have such high accuracy and are invariant to facial changes. the rate of false positive hits is enormous (and this means thay you might get busted because the idiot program ID's you by mistake as a criminal). this is scare tactics propaganda by "big brother", to make us live in terror, make us believe that their machines work perfect. but what is totally unacceptable is the fact that "big brother" tries to monitor every we do, digitizing us (pictures, dna), listening in on what we talk, keeping track of what we do in internet-space.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

wow it's happening... NWO and soon amerikans will head to FEMA camps

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"Eyes" mean nothing if the person using the technology is a nitwit. All you need to know is that this guy turned himself in. He was FACE TO FACE with the cops and the bumbling boobies RELEASED him. What better facial recognition is there than having someone standing there in the flesh, in front of your own face, and also telling you he's one of the most wanted criminals in the country? Maybe he should have called Asahara and have him confirm his identity.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

35 cents will buy you effective "clean" stick-on fingerprints from your friendly local distributor in Manila or shaghai. Brake fluid will temporarily remove your own prints, though a bit more painful than using stick-ons. All foil the multi-gillion yen NEC print scanners. Low tech marches on, while hi tech solutions don't offer Plan Bs and just tread on basic human privacy and empty tax-payers' wallets. They're any easy sale though. People really need to rethink what they are trying to solve and explore potential exploitations before wasting everyone's time, money and dignity (full body scanners). It's sad and promotes the herd pedestrian in the minds of egomaniacal politicians and psuedo know-it-all psuedo-"solutions providers" , eager to suck up your money and provide you nothing in return.

Basic PI is still the most effective way terrorists are caught, bar none. Dirt cheap in comparison, and more resourceful.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"They're any easy sale though." any = an oops.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As for crime fighting, cameras are not very different from policemen. Policemen will also "harass" innocent look-alikes, this is how one searches for criminals. The real danger is that people could easily be tracked and profiled even if they were not criminals and for different purposes. This means that it would become possible to single out undesirable individuals or to ostracize people by discrediting them. A system with no privacy is not necessarily bad, but a system with no privacy for some is very bad.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Big Brother is watching but only sees what it wants to.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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