I Was Wrong, Unfortunately

Right after the Patriots’ Day bombing I predicted the culprits would be caught through the use of facial recognition software.

Here’s what I wrote

There is no doubt the finish line for the Boston Marathon will produces hours, maybe days, of video. In the past that would have presented a daunting task. No more. Beefy computers will ingest that data and ask for more!

The video was there–hours and hours of it, along with thousands of stills. All we had to do now was wait for the AI to do its thing. That’s what I thought. Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis thought so too.

We were all wrong.

Davis said he was told that facial-recognition software did not identify the men in the ball caps. The technology came up empty even though both Tsarnaevs’ images exist in official databases: Dzhokhar had a Massachusetts driver’s license; the brothers had legally immigrated; and Tamerlan had been the subject of some FBI investigation.

The best tip actually came from a hospitalized man who’d lost both legs in the explosion. He was standing next to the bomb. He saw who’d placed it at his feet.

The witness, Jeffrey Bauman, couldn’t speak, so he wrote:

“Bag. Saw the guy, looked right at me.”

Bauman’s revelation was major breakthrough and a large part of why the FBI was able to distribute photographs of the Tsarnaev Brothers on Thursday.

But the photographs were not enough. They had faces, not names.

The FBI’s decision to release the photos was the right one. Where computers had failed, humans succeeded. It was the public who identified Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

We live in a surveillance society. Our government has access, often easy access, to the smallest details of our lives. We are monitored by armies of cameras, public and private. I find all this spying troubling and have often wondered if it’s really legal?

We are told it’s for our good… our security. Yes, it might be invasive from time-to-time, but only inadvertently.

Now it looks like all this monitoring can’t do what it was bought to do! It was sold on a falsehood. The monitoring goes on.

4 thoughts on “I Was Wrong, Unfortunately”

  1. The video from various surveillance cameras played a huge role here in tracking these guys down. Having a description from Mr. Bauman enabled them to narrow down who they were looking for in the video footage – without the video they’d still be looking.

    Was it an automated ID? No. Did technology play a role in flushing them out and ultimately a capture? You betcha.

  2. One of the things these guys underestimated was the sheer number of cameras around the site they’d chosen to bomb. Between TV networks (local news, sports networks etc0 and spectators with personal cameras of all kinds on top of the official surveilance cameras, they really had no chance of escaping detection. All it would take was enough people going over the video frame by frame and seeing what happened. It was sheer stupidity that they chse that place at that time to do this. how could you NOT know about all the cmeras. Or did they think that in the crowd thet’d be impossible to pick out?
    I also think they underestimated how quickly law enforcement would figure out who they were. Releasing the pictures of the suspects was brilliant and did one of the things intended, in that it made them realize the jig was up and forced them from hiding.
    My boss and I were talking about it on Friday and I told him that if I’d been in their shoes I’d have had an ‘exit plan’ in place BEFORE planting the bombs. I’d have had tickets ready to fly anywhere AWAY from new England (probably Florida) and then go from there to a country without an extradition treaty with the US, probably in South America. By the time authorities had figured out who was responsible they’d have been far out of reach. Fatal flaws in planning were their downfall and our boon.
    If they set out to do this to impress anyone, they failed at that too.

    1. It is unlikely the lack of an extradition treaty would have protected these guys. Seriously, even Iran would have found a way to send them back (as Cuba used to do with airplane hijackers).

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