A new study published in PLOS ONE shows that the high resolution images produced by modern digital cameras can be used to identify the photographer and other individuals positioned behind the camera. The researchers, from the University of York (U.K.), say that images retrieved from subjects’ corneal reflections could be especially important when the images record criminal activity – such as hostage taking or child sex abuse.
To establish whether bystanders could be identified from corneal reflection images, lead researcher Dr Rob Jenkins and his team presented reflection images to observers in a face-matching task. He found that the observers who were unfamiliar with the bystanders’ faces performed at 71 percent accuracy while participants who were familiar with the faces performed at 84 percent accuracy.
The study also notes that in a test of spontaneous recognition, the observers could reliably name a familiar face (in this case Barack Obama) from an eye reflection image.
“The pupil of the eye is like a black mirror. To enhance the image, you have to zoom in and adjust the contrast. A face image that is recovered from a reflection in the subject’s eye is about 30,000 times smaller than the subject’s face,” said Jenkins. “Our findings thus highlight the remarkable robustness of human face recognition, as well as the untapped potential of high-resolution photography.”
The researchers say that in crimes in which the victims are photographed, such as hostage taking or child sex abuse, reflections in the eyes of the photographic subject could help to identify perpetrators. Jenkins also suggested that corneal reflections seized as evidence during criminal investigations could be used to piece together networks of associates or to link individuals to particular locations.
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