Tag Archives: facial recognition

Facebook Accused of Violating Privacy Via Facial Recognition Technology

On April 6, a coalition of consumer privacy organizations led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, accusing Facebook of violating individual’s privacy via the company’s facial recognition practices. The complaint focuses on changes to Facebook’s policy which went into effect in early 2018, namely the ability to scan user photos for biometric facial matches without consent.

The organizations say that Facebook is deceptively selling the facial recognition technology to users by encouraging them to identify people in photographs. “This unwanted, unnecessary, and dangerous identification of individuals undermines user privacy, ignores the explicit preferences of Facebook users, and is contrary to law in several state and many parts of the world,” the complaint states.

The coalition also claims Facebook’s policy violates the 2011 Consent Order with the Commission, calling the scanning of faces without “unlawful”. The organizations are calling on the FTC to reopen a 2009 investigation of Facebook due to recent revelations regarding Cambridge Analytica accessing millions of Facebook users private data. The Electronic Privacy Information Center has called on the FTC to investigate Facebook’s facial recognition practices since 2011.

“Facebook should suspend further deployment of facial recognition pending the outcome of the FTC investigation,” EPIC President Marc Rotenberg said.

Other organizations participating in the complaint against Facebook include The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, The Center for Digital Democracy, The Constitutional Alliance, Consumer Action, The Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, The Cyber Privacy Project, Defending Rights & Dissent, The Government Accountability Project, The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Patient Privacy Rights, The Southern Poverty Law Center, and The U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

This is not the first time Facebook has been under fire for their facial recognition technology. As far back as 2015, The Anti Media reported on a lawsuit involving a man who, despite not having a Facebook account, was fighting to get his “faceprint” from the company. The complaint was filed by Frederick William Gullen of Illinois. Gullen’s complaint stated:

Facebook is actively collecting, storing, and using — without providing notice, obtaining informed written consent or publishing data retention policies — the biometrics of its users and unwitting non-users … Specifically, Facebook has created, collected and stored over a billion ‘face templates’ (or ‘face prints’) — highly detailed geometric maps of the face — from over a billion individuals, millions of whom reside in the State of Illinois.

Although no federal law exists to govern the commercial use and collection of biometrics, Illinois and Texas have passed laws designed to protect the public. Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act made it illegal to collect and store faceprints without obtaining informed written consent. The law also made it illegal for companies to sell, lease, or otherwise profit from a customer’s biometric information. Lawsuits filed against Facebook allege the company is violating BIPA because it makes faceprints without written consent.

With Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg facing pressure from the U.S. Congress and public, the company may shift towards privacy oriented practices. However, for the moment, users should be aware that their words and face are owned by Facebook and whoever else they decide to share the data with.

Interpol Plans to Launch Global Anti-Terror Facial Recognition System in 2015

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.

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.

NSA Collecting Millions Of Facial Images From Web, Text Messages, Teleconferencing

According to The New York Times, evidence sourced from documents leaked by none other than Edward Snowden has shown that the National Security Agency is collecting “millions of facial images” from across the Web every day.

The documents presented to the NYT showed that the NSA’s dependence on facial recognition technology has increased considerably under the Obama administration. The NSA has been utilizing new software to effectively “exploit the flood of images included in emails, text messages, social media, videoconferences and other communications,” according to the newspaper. The NSA appears to be considering the processing of millions of facial images as vital as processing written and verbal communications.

Of the millions of images being collected, about 55,000 of them are “facial recognition quality images”.

“The government leads the way in developing huge face recognition databases, while the private sector leads in accurately identifying people under challenging conditions,” said Jennifer Lynch, the Senior Staff Attorney of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She also said that “the government and the private sector are both investing billions of dollars into face recognition.”

In response to the NYT article, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said “We would not be doing our job if we didn’t seek ways to continuously improve the precision of signals intelligence activities — aiming to counteract the efforts of valid foreign intelligence targets to disguise themselves or conceal plans to harm the United States and its allies.”

Since facial images are considered by the NSA to be a type of communication, the agency has defended that court approval would be required to collect images of American citizens, much like the agency needing court approval to be listening to phone calls or reading emails.

“Unfortunately, our privacy laws provide no express protections for facial recognition data,” Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) pointed out in a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration last December.

The documents obtained by Snowden do not specify how many people worldwide, or in the United States, have been subjects of these interceptions of images. Facial recognition software has been in use for quite some time and is constantly advancing, but there remains room for improvement in its reliability.

Follow Annabelle on Facebook and Twitter.