According to the Indian news outlet NDTV, nearly 3,000 missing children have been located in New Delhi only four days after the city police department adopted an experimental facial recognition system (FRS) software program. A significant improvement to the milk carton approach.
Tracking the thousands of children who disappear each year in the 1.3 billion-person nation is an impossibly enormous undertaking. According to India's Ministry of Women and Child Development, more than 240,000 children were reported missing between 2012 and 2017 alone, although the real number is probably higher. Some organizations estimate that the true number of missing children is close to 500,000 per year.
To aid recovery efforts, the Ministry established a nationwide online database called TrackChild, where photographs of missing and found children can be posted and viewed, and police information can be shared between agencies and with citizens.
And though this digital resource has become a helpful tool, the backlog of photographs is still too much for officials to handle.
So, a child welfare organization called Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) developed an FRS software to automate TrackChild’s photo comparison process. Details of the particular facial recognition algorithm that this program uses are not available, but current FRS platforms use one or both of the two main approaches – geometric or photometric.
Geometric (also known as feature-based) algorithms analyze and compare faces by mapping the distance between features and noting facial landmarks, whereas photometric algorithms break images down into pixel-by-pixel data of shade gradients that can then be compared. Given that photometric algorithms require many reference images before comparisons can be made, it is unlikely that the Delhi FRS includes this technology.
Due to somewhat confusingly reported bureaucratic issues, the FRS pilot project was not implemented until the Delhi High Court intervened to assist the police department. Yet once approved, the FRS was able to identify 2,930 children after being fed images of 45,000 children from the TrackChild database.
“India currently has almost [200,000] missing children and about 90,000 lodged in various child care institutions. It is almost impossible for anyone [to] manually go through photographs to match the children,” BBA activist Bhuwan Ribhu told The Better India.
“It is immaterial whether other police departments use the software or not. Even if one department has this software, then running it through all their databases, under the Ministry of Women and Child Development, will throw up the requisite results, which can be shared with the other departments.”
It is unclear as of now whether the system needs to clear further legal hurdles before it can be permanently added to the TrackChild program.