Just How Reliable and Widespread is FBI Facial Recognition Technology? EFF Sues To Find Out.

Next Generation IdentificationFBIThe Federal Bureau of Investigation has been happily touting its Next Generation Identification technology — within limits. That is, the feds are happy to boast on their Website about their "multi-million dollar contract" with Lockheed Martin Transportation and Security Solutions to implement state of the art biometric systems to go "beyond fingerprints," but they're not so eager to go beyond marketing happy talk. So, after waiting a year on three Freedom of Information Act requests intended to reveal just what the feds are up to, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing to make the FBI cough up the goods.

From EFF:

Since early 2011, EFF has been closely following the FBI's work to build out its Next Generation Identification (NGI) biometrics database, which would replace and expand upon the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). The new program will include multiple biometric identifiers, such as iris scans, palm prints, face-recognition-ready photos, and voice data, and that information will be shared with other agencies at the local, state, federal and international levels. The face recognition component is set to launch in 2014.

"NGI will result in a massive expansion of government data collection for both criminal and noncriminal purposes," says EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch, who testified before the U.S. Senate on the privacy implications of facial recognition technology in July of last year. "Biometrics programs present critical threats to civil liberties and privacy. Face-recognition technology is among the most alarming new developments, because Americans cannot easily take precautions against the covert, remote, and mass capture of their images."

Specifically, EFF wants to know about "agreements and discussions between the FBI and various state agencies regarding the face-recognition program; records addressing the reliability of face-recognition technology; and documentation of the FBI's plan to merge civilian and criminal records in a single repository. EFF is also seeking disclosure of the total number of face-recognition capable records currently in the FBI's database, as well as the proposed number at deployment."

Facial recognitionFBIFacial recognition technology has been something of a law-enforcement holy grail in recent years, with lots of money spent and lots of attempted implementations, but spotty and unreliable delivery. Post Boston bombings, with surveillance cameras a hot topic, the possibility of linking those cameras to facial recognition technology is irresistible — especially since government agencies already have massive databases of face shots sorted by name.

What databases? Why, drivers license records, of course. The Washington Post reported last month that 26 states allow driver's license records to be scanned with facial recognition software, making for more than 120 million searchable mugshots. Despite the nominal 2014 target date, odds are good that many, if not all, of those states are using some implementation of FBI technology, since NextGov reported in 2011 that the FBI was launching "a nationwide facial recognition service in select states" based on the Next Generation Identification program. Two years later, that program is certainly more widespread.

With surveillance cameras proliferating around the country, traffic cameras being repurposed for wider duties, and the resulting snapshots being compared to existing databases covering half the adult population, it just might be worth knowing how widespread the FBI program has become, and how accurate its matches are, when your face is being compared to those of suspected criminals and terrorists.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Your job is to pay for the toys they use against you and then shut up.

  • Libertymike||

    Until it is time to terminate leviathan's lackeys.

  • MJGreen||

    OT: Good Lord, I was approached by "Anthony Weiner's mom" on the subway tonight. She was asking for signatures to get him on the ballot.

    I feel bad that 1) I wanted to laugh right in her face, and 2) I didn't laugh right in her face.

  • Sevo||

    "I feel bad that 1) I wanted to laugh right in her face, and 2) I didn't laugh right in her face."

    Sorta like that call from the guy who claims to be 'windows technical support' telling you you're missing some updates?
    I couldn't laugh in his face over the phone, but I did my best.

  • Libertymike||

    Damn, I would've thought that you have no problem laughing in his face.

    Do you think that LM hesitates to laugh in the faces of those who merit such treatment, even accounting for how nice a guy I am?

  • ||

    woosh

  • fried wylie||

    You don't point your phone at your face when talking? Putting the phone to your ear is so 1992.

  • Sevo||

    "woosh"
    I noticed that also...

  • ||

    On the phone? The best way to handle that is to say, "sure man....uh....hang on just a second let me get a pen/paper whatever."

    Then set the phone down and go back to doing what you were doing. It wastes their time, which is about all you can do to them.

    I do it all the time.

  • Almanian!||

    I like to start telling them about Amway.

    *CLICK!*

  • Rich||

    The Unification Church.

    Unless, of course, it's a Moonie calling.

  • Sevo||

    Mo betta:
    'Have you been saved?'
    Seriously, I resent the intrusion and most often, I don't say anything when I hang up.

  • ||

    My grandfather actually tries to fuck with them as long as possible and tries to see how long he can lead them on. I think his record is 30 minutes.

  • Agammamon||

    I'm thinking - "horn in a can".

  • ||

    I hope it's massively widespread, because 1) that can cause another scandal like with the NSA, and 2) the more data they have the harder it will be for them to mine it.

    Once again, I have to thank Cthulu that the government is so very incompetent. If it weren't, we'd be in a way worse situation.

  • Sevo||

    "Once again, I have to thank Cthulu that the government is so very incompetent. If it weren't, we'd be in a way worse situation."

    Dunno.
    Sort of like getting a big fish in the boat; it may not cause damage by intent, but...

  • ||

    OT, but I found this funny: Marine Corps veteran blows the lid on a new George Zimmerman trial scandal: Sanford Police department gives their officers military ribbons.

    Workman, a Navy Cross recipient who left the Marine Corps in 2010, posted a photo of Singleton to his Facebook page after he saw her take the stand. He said he heard her say that she served three years in the Army, but the ribbon rack on her chest didn’t match that of someone who served so few years — or even of this generation.
    “Am I going blind or is this police officer in the Zimmerman -Martin trial wearing ribbons that she doesn’t rate?” he wrote alongside the photo he posted to Facebook. Two in particular stood out, he said: the World War II Army of Occupation Medal and the Defense Distinguished Service Medal.
    [...]
    The Sanford Police Department could not immediately be reached for comment. But Workman got a hold of them and said they told him they didn’t have their own awards system, so they went to the Army-Navy store around the corner and picked out Defense Department military ribbons to fit their own format. The WWII was selected, the police department official told Workman, because they knew there weren’t many veterans from that period alive so they didn’t think people would notice.

    Military entitlement vs cop entitlement!

  • fried wylie||

    because they knew there weren’t many veterans from that period alive so they didn’t think people would notice.

    Because no one keeps Grandpa's medals.

  • ||

    "...they didn’t have their own awards system, so they went to the Army-Navy store around the corner and picked out Defense Department military ribbons to fit their own format. "

    I am having some trouble understanding why they would do that.

    I used to work on a small police force. We had one guy that liked to play dress-up. He had medals that no one knew what they were for, an extra shiny badge, radio thingies on his shoulder, and was constantly nagging to get more blinky lights on his car. Everyone laughed at him behind his back.

    Looks like there is a whole department full of that type here.

  • Bryan C||

    And if you laugh at them...

  • Agammamon||

    His *first* thought should have been why would she be wearing *military* ribbons on a cops uniform at all.

  • Rich||

    "Face-recognition technology is among the most alarming new developments, because Americans cannot easily take precautions against the covert, remote, and mass capture of their images."

    I'll just leave this here.

  • Redmanfms||

    Supposedly facial recognition tech is immune to make-up and facial hair.

    You might look different to somebody who knows you dressed up as a Kiss-fag, but the computer isn't looking at "you" it's looking at ratios between reference points on your face.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    Now I have a legit excuse to wear pantyhose on my head.

  • Agammamon||

    "So, after waiting a year on three Freedom of Information Act requests intended to reveal just what the feds are up to, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing to make the FBI cough up the goods."

    What I don't understand - the FBI *knows* what the EFF does, knows what its purpose is, knows that the EFF has the willpower and funding to take the FBI on - why ignore them and delay?

    Either the fight isn't important, in which case just release the info requested, or it s - in which case don't dick around, get a court to decide the case.

    The EFF isn't going anywhere and the more you dick around the more the EFF will be interested, the more the fight will get them in the news, and more people will give them money and time to do their thing.

  • Bryan C||

    The FBI sees it as their job to thwart FOIA requests and punish the organizations making the request. The EFF might eventually succeed in making the FBI actually obey the law. They next guy will see how long a simple FOIA takes and how much it cost to get and will decide that they simply can't afford it.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement