The FBI Wants Your Face
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
While we still may have no clue as to why the FBI had some 12 million Apple UDIDs, the fact they are now in the hands of a hacking collective is enough reason to question the federal agency’s ability to keep data safe.
So, while it may be good news for some that the FBI is finally moving away from the relatively ancient fingerprint system for identifying criminals to facial recognition, some privacy groups are beginning to wonder how these facial images will be used, how they’ll be stored and if they’ll be safe from future attacks.
Called the Next Generation Identification program (NGI), this $1 billion undertaking will capture and store DNA analysis, facial and iris scans, and voice recognition as well as the old fingerprint and palm print databases.
According to Phys.org, some FBI agents have already been testing this facial recognition system by pairing mug shots with faces in photos of large crowds. Working backwards, this new system should be able to take images from security cameras and then scan them to locate any individual they may be looking for in their database.
Using a specialized algorithm, this system would also be able to scan images from security cameras for any person of interest or possible leads in an investigation. Finally, the new NGI system would also be able to identify a person by scars, tattoos or other marks.
The FBI has been testing this new program in several states, such as Michigan. In February, the state of Michigan had successfully rolled out an “end-to-end facial recognition” transaction, sending their recognition requests to the Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS).
According to Jerome Pender, executive assistant director of the FBI’s Information and Technology branch, several other states are right behind Michigan in the roll out process. Says Pender, Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio and South Carolina have all sent in memorandum’s of Understanding (MOUs) to the FBI to be considered for facial recognition pilot testing. After all of these pilot tests are completed, the FBI plans to have a facial recognition database in place by 2014, and at the rate the technology is advancing, the system could detect individuals based on side profiles and even create 3D models of the face, which can then be matched against other 2D images with great accuracy.
With so much data about a person’s face and identity floating around in the FBI’s computers, some privacy advocacy groups are understandably concerned about the future of this program. The FBI has said only mug shots of known criminals will be stored in this database during the pilot studies. Furthermore, any state involved in these pilot programs must submit, in writing, when they plan to access this database, why they plan to access the database, and what information they plan on accessing.
Despite the FBI’s claims, these groups remain concerned about the future of the program and the implications of an accessible database of faces. In response to the FBI’s comments, Jennifer Lynch with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said it wasn’t yet clear if the FBI will only include mug shots of known criminals or if any individual’s image will soon be added to the database.
The privacy groups aren’t the only ones concerned about the FBI’s use of facial recognition in future investigations.
Speaking about the recognition technology used in social networking, Senator Al Franken said in July that this new technology, though helpful in fighting crime, could also “come at a high cost to our civil liberties.”
“Law enforcement doesn’t need a warrant to use this technology,” said Franken. He then added, “if a store wants to take a picture and generate a ‘faceprint,’ they can do it, and they might even be able to sell it to third parties.”
It’s as the old saying goes, any data created can be accessed somehow. Therefore, if the government and private companies are creating databases of faces, they are placing this information at risk of being hacked or hijacked.