Facial recognition technology may become Jewish institutions’ first line of defense

Click photo to download. Caption: The facial recognition technology of FST Biometrics at work. Credit: FST Biometrics.
Click photo to download. Caption: The facial recognition technology of FST Biometrics at work. Credit: FST Biometrics.

At around 1 p.m. on a cloudy day in April 2014, Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., 74, pulled into the rear parking lot of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and opened fire. Shouting anti-Semitic slurs, he shot dead Dr. William Lewis Corporon, 69, and his grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, before fleeing for the nearby Jewish geriatric center, Village Shalom. There, he murdered 53-year-old Terri LaManno.

Miller told the Kansas City Star in an interview after his arrest that he conducted reconnaissance missions of the JCC and Village Shalom in the days before the shootings. But what might have happened if the security protocols at those sites were more advanced?

A new technology endorsed by the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America (JCCA) could play a key role in preventing future attacks. Earlier this year, JCCA announced FST Biometrics, an Israeli developer of In Motion Identification (IMID) technology for biometric identification, as its preferred identity management vendor.

Brian Soileau, JCCA’s manager of corporate partnerships, told that JCCA did not investigate dozens of vendors before choosing FST, and as such he cannot say if it is the only or best solution. But he immediately found favor in the IMID solution, which uses biometric identification technology—including facial recognition and body behavior analytics—to allow JCC staffers and members to move freely into and through facilities, while restricting access to unauthorized visitors.

“JCC managers are challenged with finding the right balance to create safe spaces for fun, sport, and education, while also ensuring that their facilities are functioning optimally and creating a welcoming environment,” said Arie Melamed, chief marketing officer of FST Biometrics.

FST was founded in 2007 by Israel Defense Forces Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze’evi Farkash, the former head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate.

“Farkash would visit the Erez checkpoint [from Gaza into Israel] and he saw that Palestinians were standing in the cue to enter Israel for four, five, or even six hours,” explained Melamed. “The reason was security. The military was trying to make sure that no one passing through the checkpoint was a terrorist or on a watch list.”

The more Farkash watched the process, the more he realized that there must be a technology available that would ensure security and improve efficiency.

“He thought, ‘If someone is not a terrorist, he will not like us very much,’” said Melamed.

When Farkash searched for such a technology, he realized there was no solution that could solve the challenge. Any single technology on its own was either invasive, uncomfortable, or inaccurate, but Farkash realized that “a fusion of technologies can bring us the results we need,” according to Melamed.

IMID utilizes a combination of facial recognition and body behavior, ties it to a database of information, and has the ability to simultaneously incorporate voice recognition by request.

“It works like our brains,” said Melamed, describing that when you see someone you know from a distance, you recognize them by their gait or body behavior. As they get closer, you see their face and verify if it is the person you believed it was. If there isn’t enough light, you listen to the person’s voice.

The results: 99.9997 percent accuracy, or the possibility that only three out of 10,000 people trying to gain false entry into a facility will succeed. Enrollment in the system takes 10 seconds.

FST has already put on multiple security webinars for JCCs across the U.S. and is in active talks with a handful of institutions. The technology is being leveraged at Bais Yaakov School for Girls in West Hollywood, Calif., and at several locations in New York, Israel, Australia, the Netherlands, and elsewhere in Europe, among other places. Though he said he could not name the specific institutions using FST (beyond the aforementioned Bais Yaakov school), Melamed said the technology is making life easier for these companies and organizations by eliminating key fobs and access cards. Secure entry at these sites is now faster because information on incoming visitors is processed while they are in motion. The process is also less intrusive and more hygienic than fingerprinting technology.

Kyle Shideler, director of the Threat Information Office at the Center for Security Policy, a Washington, DC-based national security think tank, said facial recognition technologies such as the one provided by FST are an attractive option for security services in Western nations, where the prevention of terrorism is becoming a higher priority. This is especially true in Western Europe and Eastern Europe, he noted, where there has been a rise in anti-Semitism, hate crimes, and terror—most recently the truck attack that killed 84 people in Nice, France.

According to Shideler, a German intelligence report in July 2015 indicated that there were a minimum of 950 Hezbollah and 300 Hamas activists operating in Germany, and that “these individuals have participated in inciting anti-Semitic protests and other incidents.”

Shideler said that Jewish institutions want to become “as hard a target as possible” by installing a visible security presence, and that new technologies could play a key role in achieving that objective. He said that terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah—much like Frazier Glenn Miller, the lone-wolf shooter—engage in a high degree of reconnaissance before they conduct an attack.

“The best opportunity to prevent a terror attack is finding that threat during the reconnaissance phase,” Shideler said. “If you can determine who is observing you, who is coming by that shouldn’t be there, and turn the police on them, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

This is the philosophy of Adam Cohen, a volunteer facility manager for Bais Yaakov in West Hollywood. A few years after Buford O’Neal Furrow, Jr. walked into the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills—20 miles from Bais Yaakov—opened fire and wounded a receptionist, camp counselor, and three boys in 1999, Cohen decided to help Bais Yaakov improve security. All four of his daughters have attended the school, and one is still a student there.

Cohen started with traditional technologies—a video camera and a keypad. Then, in 2009, he helped enlist Bais Yaakov, which at the time already used fingerprint entry software, to be a test site for FST Biometrics. He helped secure a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help fund the installment. Today, Bais Yaakov is considered one of the most secure schools in the nation.

“It’s not an inexpensive technology,” said Cohen. “But you want to make your facility as secure as possible, so that if someone is looking for a target, they aren’t going to come after you.”

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