FBI Introduces Next Generation Facial Recognition Technology
With Next Generation Identification (NGI), the FBI is incorporating facial recognition technology—once the province of speculative science fiction—into its already extensive biometric identification services.
The FBI is introducing the Next Generation Identification system, a new Orwellian addition to its already extensive biometric identification service system, Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). The technology involved will include facial recognition technology.
Over time, NGI will replace the current IAFIS system over a “multi-year timeframe” with its “new functionality.”
As the FBI website states, “The NGI system will offer state-of-the-art biometric identification services and provide a flexible framework of core capabilities that will serve as a platform for multimodal functionality.”
And just who has developed NGI for the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS)? As with any sort of new technology, it has been developed by Lockheed Martin, the storied defense contractor, and Security Solutions.
Of course, the FBI states the NGI program office’s “mission is to reduce terrorist and criminal activities by improving and expanding biometric identification and criminal history information services through research, evaluation, and implementation of advanced technology within the IAFIS environment.” However, such technology could most certainly, at some point, extend beyond the frontiers of terrorism into everyday American life.
One of the specific technological developments is an “iris Repository” which will “provide the submission of Iris data, provide retrieval capability, provide Iris search capability, and provide Iris maintenance capability.” That is, a person’s eyes will be scanned and iris data collected, stored in a database and used to identify individuals suspected of a crime or those who have already been convicted.
The FBI also states that its identification system is proceeding beyond mere fingerprint to “multimodal biometrics,” a fancy way of saying that the FBI is looking to enhance its ability to collect and store data from facial and voice recognition (in addition to iris recognition).
Naturally, the FBI writes very briefly about privacy concerns, stating, “Privacy considerations have been built into NGI. NGI developed a privacy threshold analysis in June 2006. A Privacy Impact Assessment for the Interstate Photo System has been completed to assess NGI compliance with the Privacy Act. The System of Records Notice is being updated to reflect NGI capabilities. NGI also has continued involvement with the CJIS Advisory Policy Board and the Compact Council.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, however, is not convinced of the FBI’s privacy concerns assurances. “NGI will result in a massive expansion of government data collection for both criminal and noncriminal purposes,” writes the EFF. “IAFIS is already the largest biometric database in the world—it includes 70 million subjects in the criminal master file and more than 31 million civil fingerprints. Even if there are duplicate entries or some overlap between civil and criminal records, the combined number of records covers close to 1/3 the population of the United States.”
Surely, 1/3 of the U.S. population cannot be classified as terrorist suspects or garden-variety criminals, but that won’t be stopping the FBI apparently.
The EFF also notes that photos can now be submitted from a variety of public and private sources, such as security cameras, meaning “anyone could end up in the database—even if they’re not involved in a crime— by just happening to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or by, for example, engaging in political protest activities in areas like Lower Manhattan that are rife with security cameras.”
If this technology is to be used, it seems only right that it should only be applied to those who have been convicted of a crime, and not tethered to photo identification such as driver’s license, passports or voter ID’s.
America does not need a system that catalogs its 300 million citizens, allowing its government to pick faces out of the crowd and cross-reference them with sprawling, Orwellian database.
For the FBI perspective on privacy concerns, read the “Privacy Impact Assessment for the Next Generation Identification Interstate Photo System.”