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Walk Back Photographies

Walk Back Photographies

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Published by Susan Schuppli

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Published by: Susan Schuppli on Oct 03, 2013
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Susan Schuppli
WALK-BACK TECHNOLOGYDusting for fingerprints and tracking digitalfootprints
In January of 2010 Dubai security consultants ran a series of image-sequences captured by CCTV and phone calls through advanced computer algorithms to connect a trail of digital dots which confirmed that senior Hamas military leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh had notdied not of natural causes in his hotel suite but was assassinated by a large team of covertoperatives. A new category of image-analysis has emerged which is generally referred to as“walk-back technology”. Walk-back is a recombinant technology that works primarily withadvanced facial recognition software and biometrics in combination with data-tracking toidentify and plot the movement trajectories of multiple entities within differentiated spacesover time, their points of crossover, convergence and dispersion in order to play back and schematise a set of actions in relation to a chain of events.
In 1910 French physician Edmond Locard convinced the police to let him set up thefirst forensic laboratory in the garret above the Palais de Justice de Lyon. He calledit “Le Laboratoire de Police Scientifique”. Locard had studied law at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Lyon and it was there that he met and collaborated with pioneeringFrench criminologist Alexandre Lacassagne. Together they laid the groundwork for anew branch of science in service to the courts that advocated the application of scien-tific methods and deductive logic to criminal investigation and identification. DuringWorld War I Locard applied his skills in fibre and bloodstain analysis to aid the FrenchSecret Service in pinpointing the locations in which soldiers and prisoners had died.By 1918 Locard had developed a 12-point system of fingerprint identification and writ-ten a seven-volume work,
Traité de Criminalistique
. The development of a standardisedsystem for the maintenance of criminal records had, until this time, relied heavily upon judicial photography (the documentation of facial features) in combination with anthro-pometry (the measurement of the body). Both of these methods were based on the belief that deviance manifested itself as a physical trait that could be quantified and cataloguedin order to produce an archive of criminal typologies.
While the scientific basis of these techniques would soon be called into question and ultimately dismissed, anatomi-cal measurement in relationship to imaging technologies returns as an investigative toolwith the emergence of biometric face-recognition software in the late twentieth century(Kember). But it was Locard’s fingerprinting technology that first provided the muchsought-after scientific foundation for criminal detection and identification, transformingad hoc police practices into the modern and rational science of criminology.
, 2013Vol. 6, No. 1, 159–167, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17540763.2013.788849© 2013 Taylor & Francis
FIGURE 1 CCTV footage. Source Al Jazeera(http:
cc.aljazeera.net),Creative Commonslicence.
It was during this period that Locard also conceived of the single most importantprinciple that has shaped the field of forensic science, namely the precept that everycontact leaves a trace. “Physical evidence cannot be wrong, it cannot perjure itself, itcannot be wholly absent. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it candiminish its value.”
This guiding principle, which students of forensic science still learntoday, is called the
Locard Exchange Principle
. It posits that in any encounter between bod-ies, objects, materials, and spaces, certain residual traces are deposited and exchanged.These points of contact between entities can be mapped scientifically to link the distri- bution of bodies and objects within space. While the realisation that the oils excreted by the pores of the hand could leave invisible and uniquely patterned ridge impressionsrevolutionised police detective work, dusting for fingerprints did not merely operate asa technology of location to situate a protagonist within a given space or confirm con-tact with a given object; it allowed detectives to “walk-back” through time to narrate asequence of events in relationship to a crime.
Today, our movements through spaces, both real and virtual, are increasingly beingloggedbythedigitalfootprintsthatweleavebehindaswepassthroughvariouselectronicgateways, from web portals to airport security. This form of computational tracking wasto prove singularly operative in the homicide investigation of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.In January 2010 Dubai security consultants ran image-sequences captured by closed-circuit TV cameras (CCTV) and phone calls made by pre-paid mobiles through a seriesof advanced computer algorithms. When this data was cross-referenced and merged, atimeline of events fell into place that cast doubt as to whether the senior Hamas militaryleader had died of natural causes in his hotel room as had been originally determined.Instead the collated data suggested that a large team of covert operatives had participatedin the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on 19 January.
161FIGURE 2 CCTV footage of victim. Source Al Jazeera(http:
cc.aljazeera.net),CreativeCommons licence.
Nearly the entire hit was recorded on closed-circuit TV cameras, from the time theteam arrived at Dubai’s airport to the time the assassins entered Mr. Mabhouh’sroom in the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel. The cameras even caught team members before and after they donned their disguises. The only thing the Dubai authoritieshave been unable to discover is the true names of the team. But having identified theassassins, or at least the borrowed identities they travelled on, Dubai felt confidentenough to point a finger at Israel. (Baer 2–3)A new category of data analysis has emerged which is generally referred to as “walk- back technology”. Walk-back is a high-level synthesising technology or platform that canassemble and overlay different kinds of informatic data to reverse-engineer a time-lineand remap its multiple spatial coordinates. Primarily organised around advanced facialrecognition software and biometrics in combination with data-tracking, walk-back isused to identify and plot the movement trajectories of multiple people within differenti-ated spaces over time. The technology tracks their points of crossover, convergence anddispersion in order to play back and schematise a set of actions in relation to a chain of events. Although extremely reliant upon face-recognition software, walk-back can alsocross-reference data gleaned from skin analysis, gait and eye recognition as well as othernon-image-based surveillance technologies that track our online movements as well asour passage through real space.
Its emergence as a high-level investigative tool coincideswith the development of enhanced facial recognition systems, especially 3D systems thathave become much more accurate.
Older forms of facial imaging technology that reliedsolely on 2D data capture actually had a fairly low rate of success (under 60%) in match-ing photographic scans with database images because well-lit, unobstructed views of faces in motion are rarely ever produced by such CCTV systems. With 2D scans, a face

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