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Some people are squirming at the news that the FBI is putting together a more sophisticated database, including photographs of individuals identified through facial recognition technology, that could encompass both criminal and non-criminal records. However, it’s not as though Facebook, Google and other tech firms don’t already have similar capabilities, noted Tirias Research’s Jim McGregor.
The system will be able to query a database of photos to identify individuals based on their appearance even if they do not have a criminal record, reported Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The EFF received documents related to the system following a Freedom of Information Act request for details on the FBI’s Next Generation Identification project, which may hold data on as many as a third of all Americans.
The NGI database contains around 100 million total records, including fingerprints, retinal scans and palm prints. The planned expansion will add people’s faces to the system, along with information including name, age, race and address. Other federal agencies have access to the database, as well as some 18,000 local, tribal, and state law enforcement agencies in the United States.
By next year, the system will include up to 52 million photos that will help identify people of interest. Of these, 46 million will come from criminal images like mugshots; 4.3 million from “civil images,” including those from employer background checks; and 215,000 from the Repository for Individuals of Special Concern.
However, the FBI documents do not make clear exactly where the other million or so images would be sourced, indicating only that 750,000 images will come from a “Special Population Cognizant” category and 215,000 from “new repositories.”
The lack of definition for the last two sources is a problem, according to Lynch, because it’s unclear where the data comes from, how the images are collected, who has access to them, what rules govern them, and how they impact privacy.
The linking of criminal and non-criminal databases may be a cause for concern. Every record has a unique number, and all searches will be run against every record in the database — meaning a person who was required to submit a photo for an employer background check could appear in search results and potentially be implicated as a criminal suspect simply based on having an image on file, suggested the EFF.
Several states already are sharing and accessing facial recognition data through NGI, while others are taking part in a pilot project to test facial recognition image quality.
The FBI documents suggest that the system will not make a “positive identification” and “therefore, there is no false positive rate.” The list of candidates returned by an NGI search is intended only as an “investigative lead” rather than identification of a suspect.
Source: Associated Press