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Why facial recognition failed

It's a staple of TV dramas -- the photograph of a suspect is plugged into a law enforcement database, and a few minutes later: presto! We have a match! Facial recognition for the win!

Except the magic didn't work in the case of the Boston bombers, according to the Boston law enforcement authorities. The surveillance society did a face plant.

What happened? I called up Carnegie Mellon computer scientist Alessandro Acquisti, an expert in online privacy who has conducted some provocative research involving facial recognition. In a series of experiments, Acqusti and his fellow researchers were able to use "off-the-shelf" facial recognition software to identify individuals by comparing photos from a dating site, or taken offline with camera phones, with photos uploaded to Facebook. The researchers were also able to figure out a startlingly large amount of personal information about the people they managed to identify. But if Acquisti could do it, why couldn't the FBI?

Acquisti explained to Salon what he thinks might be happening on Monday morning.

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