Interpol, a non-governmental organization promoting international cooperation between law enforcement agencies, hosted a conference on October 14 and 15 at which experts on facial recognition technology were invited to plan the development of a global facial recognition system. The system, which would allow police worldwide to share biometric data and compare faces captured on video cameras with a single global list of photos, is slated for launch in 2015. Interpol officials hope that its member nations will use the system to monitor the activities of international travelers at airports, border crossings, and immigration screenings in an effort to watch for terror suspects. Biometrics contractor Safran Morpho has been tapped to develop the system. The above-embedded promotional video by Safran Morpho demonstrates a 3D facial recognition checkpoint solution developed by the firm.
A press release on Interpol’s website stated, “The two-day meeting (14 and 15 October) gathered 24 technical and biometrics experts and examiners from 16 countries who produced a ‘best practice guide’ for the quality, format and transmission of images to be used in facial recognition. It will be circulated to all 190 INTERPOL member countries to serve as a guideline for improving the quality of images necessary for accurate and effective facial recognition.”
Michael Parker, spokesman for the civil liberties group NO2ID which opposes facial recognition checks, told The Guardian, “[Interpol’s facial recognition plan] is a move away from seeking specific persons to GCHQ-style bulk interception of information… There’s already a fair amount of information collected in terms of passenger records. This is the next step. Law enforcement agencies want the most efficient systems but there has to be a balance between security and privacy.”
In the US, the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently launched its Next Generation Identification program, which is a national biometric database including facial, iris, and fingerprint recognition data. The FBI estimates that, by 2015, its database will contain private data on up to 4.3 million Americans who have not been accused of a crime. The NGI program is expected to expand to include a nationwide DNA dragnet system to which officers can upload samples collected on the go with portable rapid DNA scanners.
According to Interpol’s press release, “In 2015, INTERPOL will host its first facial recognition symposium to increase awareness of facial recognition activities among member countries and to encourage the sharing of facial images with the new database.”
The possibility that the FBI might share private biometric data on Americans with an international non-governmental organization introduces new questions as to what effect such a move would have on citizens’ privacy and US national sovereignty and security. Could Interpol’s system produce false positives that cause innocent Americans to face criminal charges in foreign countries that lack America’s human rights protections? What defense will the database have against hackers? Under what legal basis does Interpol have the authority to collect private data on individuals without their consent given its status as a non-governmental organization? Will Americans some day be required to have their faces scanned, photographed, stored in a database by Interpol, and subsequently shared with law enforcement agencies worldwide in order to fly on an airplane?
It is not yet known whether the FBI plans to upload the 52 million photos it estimates it will have by 2015 into Interpol’s global master list.