"Snooper Bowl 2001"-the use of surveillance cameras and computerized
face recognition software to identify fans who attended the Superbowl on January
During the 2001 Superbowl in Tampa, Florida, the Tampa Police Department employed
a computerized surveillance system to take pictures of all who entered the stadium
and compared them with a database of criminals' faces. The NFL knew about the
project and cooperated fully, but the people entering the stadium were not notified.
A Pennsylvania firm called Graphco Technologies, using a computerized face recognition
algorithm developed at MIT installed the system.
Goals for the activity:
- Develop awareness in the student of the various ethical and legal issues
surrounding this event.
- Guide student through analysis of the event from varying points of view,
including those of society as a whole.
Questions to pursue:
- Was there an ethical duty to notify the fans that they would be subjected
to something akin to a "digital lineup"? How does this relate to
Kant's categorical imperative to treat other humans as an end, not merely
- If there was such an ethical duty, whose duty was it, the NFL's, Graphco
Technologies, or the Tampa Police?
- This type of surveillance is common in England, where the citizens accept
it as a means of fighting crime. Research into English technology and the
social reaction would be interesting.
- Suppose you are a programmer working for Graphco Technologies. Discuss this
project as it relates to the professional relationships discussed in Chapter
3 of the Johnson text. Assume 2 different points of view: (1) That you are
personally in favor of the project because of its potential to fight crime,
and (2) That you personally oppose the project because you perceive it to
be an invasion of privacy.
- The ACM Code of Professional Conduct specifies several actions that a professional
should take to consider the privacy of the individuals whose data we are processing.
How do these items in the Code relate to this project?
- The European Union has a policy, discussed in Chapter 5 of the Johnson text,
concerning the proper use of computer data. Suppose a system similar to the
one at the Superbowl was used at a European sporting event. How would this
policy apply to the face data that was collected?
- Suppose the European Union policy was made into law. How difficult would
enforcement be in a case such as the "Snooper Bowl"? Who would ensure
that the data was properly disposed of?
- When applying for a passport, a citizen is required to submit a photo. According
to the references, the algorithm used in this project can use any photo to
place facial data in a master database. This data can be stored and used later
in connection with any surveillance system. Numerous ethical issues can be
discussed about that scenario!
- For CS majors and professionals: Discuss technical ways in which you can
make it less likely that this type of data is misused. For example, a systems
designer designates what happens to the face data that is not "matched"-is
it saved or discarded?
Author contact information:
Dept. of Computer Science
Oklahoma City University