FBI Facial Recognition System Is Now Fully Operational

According to MyFoxNY, the Federal Bureau of Investigation just launched its Next Generation Identification program, which is made up of two databases called Rap Back and Interstate Photo System. The Interstate Photo System facial recognition service, according to a press release by the FBI, “will provide the nation’s law enforcement community with an investigative tool that provides an image-searching capability of photographs associated with criminal identities.” Rap Back delivers criminal record status updates on individual suspects of interest who might have found themselves on the wrong side of the law in other jurisdictions. The above-embedded animated video by NMA News Direct breaks down some of the details of the program.

The Verge points out concerns that civil liberties advocates have raised over the nationwide facial recognition database’s inclusion of photographs of citizens that have not been accused of crimes. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the FBI plans on acquiring over 52 million photos of Americans for this database by 2015. In addition to traditionally-included biometric content like mug shots and fingerprints of criminals, the FBI has been including photos of non-criminals in the system, which are being taken from records of background checks that include photographs or fingerprints, like those sometimes required for employment at certain types of jobs. The EFF notes that the FBI estimated that, by 2015, it would have 4.3 million photos of non-criminals in its databases.

Said Jennifer Lynch in her paper for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “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.” Lynch also argued that the system relies on low resolution images and is often inaccurate, which, combined with its inclusion of non-criminals in the database, could lead to false arrests, “…the FBI has disclaimed responsibility for accuracy, stating that ‘[t]he candidate list is an investigative lead not an identification.'” The system provides the top 50 possible facial matches to each image searched, meaning, if the true match does not exist in the database, a similar-looking false positive could be investigated simply because it appears in the database.

The facial recognition system is capable of analyzing videos to identify individual faces amid a crowd of people, leading civil liberties advocates to worry that the Interstate Photo System could one day be used to monitor Americans’ activities over publicly-positioned closed-circuit television spy cameras. The FBI hopes to expand these biometric databases in a multimodal way, incorporating retina scans, fingerprints, and facial and voice recognition data into master files on individuals. Over 18,000 law enforcement agencies will be able to access the Next Generation Identification program.