Saturday, January 14, 2006

Facial Recognition, GPS Disasters, and Nikon Cameras

Today's Daily Yomiuri reports that the Construction and Transport Ministry is studying the introduction of a facial recognition system to be installed in every train station, tied into a central database to look for terrorists (though there is no reason why they couldn't look for wanted criminals, deadbeat dads and jaywalkers with the same system).

The diagram accompanying the article shows cameras pointed at the electronic ticket gates (kaisatsuguchi), but there's no indication in the article that the cameras will be limited to there. Out in the suburbs where we live, not all of the stations have electronic ticket gates; it's possible to enter the JR system without a ticket at all.

Of course, Japan suffered an actual terrorist attack (the sarin nerve gas attack) by the cult Aum Shinri Kyo on the subways in 1995 which killed a railway worker. Japan also tends to come down more on the side of public interest than personal privacy in most of these discussions. Nevertheless, I can't say I'm wild about this system, but it may well be inevitable, both in Japan and elsewhere.

The system will be deployed first at Kasumigaseki station starting in March of this year as a test. Kasumigaseki is the station closest to the Diet (Parliament) building, and was one of the targets of the sarin attack.

Officials declined to even estimate the cost of the total system, but it must be enormous, given the large number of stations and wickets that will have to be monitored. The system is being developed by NTT Communications.

On the other side of the technology coin, Kyoto University is testing a GPS-guided mobile evacuation system. Your GPS-enabled cell phone can notify the disaster management center, which in turn can make maps available to you showing where fires have broken out and buildings have collapsed, and mark your preferred evacuation site on the map. This one, I like.

Oh, and a minor tidbit -- Nikon is suspending production of all but two of its film SLRs, concentrating on digital.

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