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Can Face Recognition Prevent Tragedies like the Manchester Bombing?

The 22 victims of the suicide attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester included an 8-year-old girl and an off-duty police officer. It’s difficult to make sense of such an evil act, although unfortunately, the story is increasingly familiar.

Ten months before the Manchester Arena tragedy, a suicide bomber struck outside a wine bar in Ansbach, Germany, after trying to infiltrate a music festival. On March 25, 2016, a suicide bomb killed scores at a soccer stadium in Iskandariya, south of Baghdad. In the November 2015 Île-de-France attack, a concert at Paris’ Bataclan ended in a massacre.

The list goes on and on, giving credence to growing concerns that terrorists will continue to set their sights on attacking concerts and other events. And after each event, we ask the same question: how might this atrocity have been prevented?

Although we’ll never know for sure if face recognition technology could have prevented past attacks, some can almost certainly be prevented in the future. Salman Abedi, the Manchester suicide bomber who had proven links to al Qaeda and had received terrorist training abroad, was a known figure to British and U.S. officials prior to the attack, making it quite likely that the suicide bomber’s photograph was on a terror watch list.

Face Recognition for Events

Although scientists differ on just how many faces a human being can remember, the number seems to be around 1500. Leaving aside the incredibly difficult job security forces have in normal day-to-day operations, it’s easy to see that watch lists are of little use in real-time security without the assistance of technology. But as airports like Panama’s Tocumen International Airport have proven, watch lists are incredibly useful when face recognition technology is in place.

Just like passengers entering an airport, face recognition systems can be used to match ticket holders against photos in a database in real time. When a match is found, security is instantly mobilized to search, detain or deny entrance to suspected individuals. In some cases, alerts may be delivered directly to law enforcement.

This technology isn’t new. Airports, law enforcement agencies and even retail stores have been using similar systems for years. Let’s hope that event organizers will take a fresh look at not only new technologies, but also at increased partnerships with law enforcement to prevent future atrocities.

To learn more about how face recognition can potentially help  prevent crime and terrorism at future events, download our free 5-Minute Guide to Facial Recognition for Event Security.


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