WHL team partners with… the U.S. Department of Homeland Security?

Here's an interesting plan from the United States Department of Homeland Security and a Western Hockey League franchise to turn a hockey rink into a the setting for a dystopian science fiction novel.

It seems that in an effort to improve the facial recognition software of the U.S. government, the Tri-City Americans' home arena at the Toyota Center in Kennewick, Washington has been enlisted as a test case.

Eventually, state-of-the-art facial recognition technologies could be used to identify terrorists and criminals in public areas, according to the national lab in Richland. The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate works to make technology available to agencies ranging from local police offices to the U.S. Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

PNNL previously has collected video at the Toyota Center for work with the Department of Homeland Security. But past video either has not captured members of the public or has been too low resolution to identify faces. [Yakima Herald]

PNNL, the Pacific Northwest Regional Laboratory, is an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy based in the Tri-Cities area. Their research has mostly to do with climate change and disease outbreak, but they also have a national security wing that is described on the lab's website as offering "high-impact, science-based, practical solutions… to prevent and counter acts of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

The idea is that facial recognition software will be used to identify selected members of PNNL staffers walking around the arena. Fans who would prefer to not be photographed or videotaped will have certain corridors around the arena available to them. Nick Lombardo, a project manager, suggested that if fans "don't want to be videotaped, they could very easily not be videotaped."

Another project manager, Marcia Kimura, suggested that the crowd ill mostly be background. Details of the project have been mailed to season ticket holders. The Toyota Center sits about 6000 people for hockey and averages crowds of well over 4000.

There's nothing illegal going on here, and most sports fans when they enter a venue typically have to consent to a search of their bags and, in most instances, a security pat-down. Those are nothing new and are simply things you consent to when you purchase a ticket. The idea of an eye-in-the-sky, even if its practical application is going to be used well away from a hockey rink, presumably in malls and airports once the technology is perfected.

Or, perhaps the practical application is an excuse for a few lab staffers to get out of work and catch a hockey game or two throughout the season.