Tag Archives: Next Generation Identification

New Cop Tech: Portable DNA Scanners That Upload to National DNA Database

The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently rolled out its new Next Generation Identification program, a national database system aimed at harvesting and storing biometric information on Americans. What was initially a national fingerprint system containing samples obtained from individuals accused of crimes has now become a broad biometric database with facial, tattoo, and iris recognition data on Americans, including some who have not been accused of crimes at all. Now, according to NextGov, a trade publication for federal IT contractors, the FBI’s biometric data collection mission is creeping into new territory: massive DNA dragnets.

On November 13, the FBI will host a presentation on its new NGI biometric database, and developers of rapid and portable DNA analysis devices have been invited to attend. The plan is to integrate these tools into the NGI system, which would allow officers to analyze and upload DNA profiles while on the go. Civil liberties advocates worry that these tools will accelerate an already-escalating trend towards the creation of a nationwide database containing the DNA profiles of most or all Americans, whether or not they have been accused of crimes. An example of a rapid, portable DNA analysis machine has been provided in the above-embedded video commercial demonstrating one that was developed by NEC Australia.

For context, in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled, “When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” However, portable DNA readers bring a whole new issue into the discussion — what privacy protections are there in situations when the DNA is taken, not during the booking process after an arrest, but out on the streets using a portable machine?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lead attorney Jennifer Lynch, who has been warning about the privacy implications of portable, rapid DNA analyzers since 2013, was quoted by NextGov as saying, “If you leave something behind, let’s say your trash on the sidewalk out in front of your house, then you’ve abandoned any kind of privacy interest in the trash, and so the cops can search through that trash without a warrant. That reasoning has been extended to DNA — if you leave your DNA behind, then the cops could get it without a warrant and test it… Your DNA data could be linked to all the other biometric and biographic information about you that is already in NGI. Because we discard DNA wherever we go, this allows the government the ability to further surveil people without their knowledge.” She also pointed out the fact that this nationwide DNA system could begin to become a de facto form of identification, saying, “If you consider DNA to be a form of ID, and the Supreme Court has already upheld state laws that allow officers to stop someone and ask for their ID, then this is the logical next step.”

The FBI claims that it would not use the tools to take DNA samples unlawfully, but, even under lawful procedures, anyone who passed through a crime scene might have left DNA on-site and could be swept up in a dragnet. The NGI database already contains facial recognition data and other biometric details that were acquired, not from a criminal during the booking process, but through background check programs, which are sometimes required by employers during the hiring process or by government agencies in order to obtain a firearm.

Back in 2010, CNN reported that state governments across the US have been collecting DNA profiles of newborn babies, sometimes without their parents’ consent. Could profiles collected in such a manner end up in the FBI’s NGI database? What would happen if the DNA database were hacked by enemies of the US and used for research into biological weapons? Could information stored in a DNA database someday be used in some way to profile Americans?

Currently, law enforcement officers are required to send DNA samples to an off-site lab for analysis, making portable, rapid DNA collection unlawful, but prosecutor-turned-Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-CA) released a letter, cosigned by Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), floating the idea of changing the law to make it easier for on-the-go analysis, saying, “Existing processes require law enforcement to collect DNA samples from arrestees, transport these samples to a laboratory, have them analyzed, and then wait for results.  This entire course can take weeks, during which time arrestees are free to potentially commit criminal acts or disappear.”

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.