Civil Liberties

FBI Wants 52 Million of Us in Facial Recognition Database By 2015


Facial recognition

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's plan to tag and track us all is going swimmingly, from a creepy, voyeuristic perspective, according to federal documents. Released by the FBI in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the records reveal plans to stick the mugs of almost one in six Americans into the Next Generation Identification (NGI) program's facial recognition database by next year.

Combined with the more than 120 million faces in state databases and the feds' tolerance for a remarkably high false-positive rate, your chances of getting fingered for somebody else's misdeeds are getting pretty good.

According to Jennifer Lynch, Senior Staff Attorney with the EFF, the FBI plans to have 52 million photos in its database within months:

The records we received show that the face recognition component of NGI may include as many as 52 million face images by 2015. By 2012, NGI already contained 13.6 million images representing between 7 and 8 million individuals, and by the middle of 2013, the size of the database increased to 16 million images. The new records reveal that the database will be capable of processing 55,000 direct photo enrollments daily and of conducting tens of thousands of searches every day.

Those 52 million images will include a planned 4.3 million faces photographed for non-criminal purposes, but included solely for identification purposes. Searches will be run against all records in the database, no matter how they were obtained.

The sources for the images are varied, and a bit vague.

  • 46 million criminal images
  • 4.3 million civil images
  • 215,000 images from the Repository for Individuals of Special Concern (RISC)
  • 750,000 images from a "Special Population Cognizant" (SPC) category
  • 215,000 images from "New Repositories"

"The FBI does not define either the 'Special Population Cognizant' database or the 'new repositories' category," Lynch warns. "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."

Also, identification is a tad dependant on getting it right, and that's not a certainty. Last year, the Electronic Privacy Information Center extracted a separate set of documents from the FBI revealing that federal specifications on the Next Generation Identifiication system facial recognition software allow for tagging "an incorrect candidate a maximum of 20% of the time."

Well, so long as it's no more than one in five, I guess that's OK.