Privacy SOS

Identifying you from your heart rate, from a drone?

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What would you say if I told you that in fifteen years, the FBI or local police might be able to identify you from a distance — perhaps from a drone hovering far out of sight of the human eye — using a technique called Eulerian Video Magnification and your biometric heart rate information? In other words, by reading your heart rate — unique to you — from a distance?

Sounds crazy, right? Given current research and stated FBI interests, it doesn't seem so far off.

The video above illustrates some pretty magical seeming research. Engineers at MIT have figured out a way to manipulate average video to "selectively amplify" particular elements of the images. The researchers describe their work thusly:

Our goal is to reveal temporal variations in videos that are difficult or impossible to see with the naked eye and display them in an indicative manner. Our method, which we call Eulerian Video Magnification, takes a standard video sequence as input, and applies spatial decomposition, followed by temporal filtering to the frames. The resulting signal is then amplified to reveal hidden information. Using our method, we are able to visualize the flow of blood as it fills the face and also to amplify and reveal small motions. Our technique can run in real time to show phenomena occurring at temporal frequencies selected by the user.

Meanwhile, the FBI is aggressively researching the next big biometric identifiers, among them heart rate. 'Biometric' is a short way of saying 'indicators or patterns unique to one person'. We have long been familiar with some kinds of biometrics and are increasingly familiar with others: fingerprints, face prints, iris scans, palm prints, voice prints, and even scent information.

This insight from an FBI powerpoint presentation describing current and future biometrics identification projects for inclusion in its gargantuan, DoD shared database "Next Generation Identification", gives us reason to worry about the new research:

Did you see that last bit? Cardiac signature.

The MIT researchers cited above aren't the only people coming up with potential mechanisms for the monitoring of our "cardiac signatures" from far, far away. A March 2012 patent application says researchers have developed "[s]ystems and methods for remote, long standoff biometric identification using microwave cardiac signals."

Let many long distance heart rate biometric identifiers bloom? Thanks a lot, DARPA.

UPDATE: Where DARPA goes, so goes Apple?

h/t @djon3s

Read more about US government biometrics programs.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.