FBI’s Facial Recognition Database To Grow By Leaps And Bounds – Should You Be Worried?
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Americans who never committed a crime may have felt “off the grid” when it came to FBI surveillance, but being invisible to federal law enforcement, whether real or imagined, appears to be a thing of the past as the FBI has been building a catalog of facial images over the past several years.
According to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) database will contain 52 million facial images of both criminals and non-criminals by 2015.
Expect to be fully operational by this summer, the NGI database includes palm prints and iris scans, in addition to mug shot-style photos. According to EFF documents, the database had 16 million images in 2013 and is capable of processing 55,000 photos per day.
In a blog post describing the documents, the EFF’s Jennifer Lynch said by 2015 the NGI will include 4.3 million images taken for everyday reasons.
“Currently, if you apply for any type of job that requires fingerprinting or a background check, your prints are sent to and stored by the FBI in its civil print database,” Lynch wrote. “However, the FBI has never before collected a photograph along with those prints. This is changing with NGI. Now an employer could require you to provide a ‘mug shot’ photo along with your fingerprints. If that’s the case, then the FBI will store both your face print and your fingerprints along with your biographic data.”
The EFF noted that criminal and non-criminal information is stored side-by-side in the NGI database – unlike the FBI’s fingerprint records, which are kept separate. The FBI has described the NGI program as being used only to generate a list of potential suspects in a criminal investigation, and not for “positive identification” – meaning “there is no false positive rate.”
The new revelations come as the Obama Administration launched a series of discussions to review the privacy concerns surrounding facial recognition technology.
“Facial recognition technology has the potential to improve services for consumers, support innovation by businesses, and affect identification and authentication online and offline,” the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said in a statement released in February according to The Verge‘s Nathan Ingraham. “However, the technology poses distinct consumer privacy challenges.”
So far, many individual states appear to be complying with the NGI. According to the EFF, almost half of all 50 states had expressed interest in joining the program by 2012.
In Lynch’s blog post, the EFF warned that citizens should be extremely concerned about the NGI program. It cited the possibility of being included in a criminal investigation by virtue of simply having applied for a job that required a photo background check. The EFF also said Congress and the FBI have yet to lay down significant restrictions when it comes to using the database – including who can access the data and how it can be used.
“For example, although the FBI has said in these documents that it will not allow non-mug shot photos such as images from social networking sites to be saved to the system, there are no legal or even written FBI policy restrictions in place to prevent this from occurring,” Lynch wrote.