Privacy group warns “even if you have never been arrested you could be implicated as a criminal suspect”
A leading privacy watchdog has warned that the FBI plans to have up to a third of all Americans on a facial recognition database by next year.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation notes in a communique that some 52 million Americans could be on the Next Generation Identification (NGI) biometric database by 2015, regardless of whether they have ever committed a crime or been arrested.
The group managed to obtain information pertaining to the program via a freedom of information request.
The database will also hold fingerprints, of which the FBI has around 100 million records, as well as retina scans and palm prints. Profiles on the system will contain other personal details such as name, address, age and race.
The system will be capable of searching through millions of facial records obtained not only via mugshots, but also via so called “civil images”, the origin of which is vague at best.
“[T]he FBI does not define either the ‘Special Population Cognizant’ database or the ‘new repositories’ category.” The EFF writes. “This is a problem because we do not know what rules govern these categories, where the data comes from, how the images are gathered, who has access to them, and whose privacy is impacted.”
A map within the EFF’s piece shows which states are already complying with the program, and which ones are close to agreeing deals to do so.
The EFF notes that currently, the FBI has access to fingerprint records of non-criminals who have submitted them for any kind of background check, by an employer or government agency. Going forward, however, all records, both criminal and non-criminal will be stored on the same database.
“This means that even if you have never been arrested for a crime, if your employer requires you to submit a photo as part of your background check, your face image could be searched – and you could be implicated as a criminal suspect, just by virtue of having that image in the non-criminal file,” notes the EFF.
EFF points to a disturbing assertion from the FBI that it will not “make positive identifications,” via the database, but will use it to produce “investigative leads.” The Feds claim that “Therefore, there is no false positive [identification] rate.”
“[T]he FBI only ensures that “the candidate will be returned in the top 50 candidates” 85 percent of the time “when the true candidate exists in the gallery.”” EFF states.
“It is unclear what happens when the “true candidate” does not exist in the gallery—does NGI still return possible matches?” the feature asks, noting that those identified could potentially be subjected to criminal investigation purely because a computer has decided that their face is similar to a suspect’s.
EFF continues: “This doesn’t seem to matter much to the FBI—the Bureau notes that because ‘this is an investigative search and caveats will be prevalent on the return detailing that the [non-FBI] agency is responsible for determining the identity of the subject, there should be NO legal issues.’”
“This is not how our system of justice was designed and should not be a system that Americans tacitly consent to move towards,” the EFF piece concludes.
It is somewhat remarkable that when Google announced the release of its Glass product, it was forced to ban applications with the capability for facial recognition due to a huge privacy backlash. The Federal government, however, continues to use such technology unhindered to create biometric profiles on anyone and everyone.
The Department of Homeland Security also has its own facial recognition program, which it routinely outsources to police departments. Meanwhile, new innovations in facial recognition technology continue to be billed as potential tools for law enforcement, including the prediction of future crime.