FBI launches facial recognition database

I wonder how well this is going to play with social media photo tagging, because you know they will try to integrate it.

I can’t wait until someone gets arrested because their Facebook photo looks like a criminal’s photo.

(via NextGov)

The FBI by mid-January will activate a nationwide facial recognition service in select states that will allow local police to identify unknown subjects in photos, bureau officials told Nextgov.

The federal government is embarking on a multiyear, $1 billion dollar overhaul of the FBI’s existing fingerprint database to more quickly and accurately identify suspects, partly through applying other biometric markers, such as iris scans and voice recordings.

Often law enforcement authorities will “have a photo of a person and for whatever reason they just don’t know who it is [but they know] this is clearly the missing link to our case,” said Nick Megna, a unit chief at the FBI’s criminal justice information services division. The new facial recognition service can help provide that missing link by retrieving a list of mug shots ranked in order of similarity to the features of the subject in the photo.

Today, an agent would have to already know the name of an individual to pull up the suspect’s mug shot from among the 10 million shots stored in the bureau’s existing Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. Using the new Next-Generation Identification system that is under development, law enforcement analysts will be able to upload a photo of an unknown person; choose a desired number of results from two to 50 mug shots; and, within 15 minutes, receive identified mugs to inspect for potential matches. Users typically will request 20 candidates, Megna said. The service does not provide a direct match.

Michigan, Washington, Florida and North Carolina will participate in a test of the new search tool this winter before it is offered to criminal justice professionals across the country in 2014 as part of NGI. The project, which was awarded to Lockheed Martin Corp. in 2008, already has upgraded the FBI’s fingerprint matching service.

Local authorities have the choice to file mug shots with the FBI as part of the booking process. The bureau expects its collection of shots to rival its repository of 70 million fingerprints once more officers are aware of the facial search’s capabilities.

Thomas E. Bush III, who helped develop NGI’s system requirements when he served as assistant director of the CJIS division between 2005 and 2009, said, “The idea was to be able to plug and play with these identifiers and biometrics.” Law enforcement personnel saw value in facial recognition and the technology was maturing, said the 33-year FBI veteran who now serves as a private consultant.

NGI’s incremental construction seems to align with the White House’s push to deploy new information technology in phases so features can be scrapped if they don’t meet expectations or run over budget.

But immigrant rights groups have raised concerns that the Homeland Security Department, which exchanges digital prints with the FBI, will abuse the new facial recognition component. Currently, a controversial DHS immigrant fingerprinting program called Secure Communities runs FBI prints from booked offenders against the department’s IDENT biometric database to check whether they are in the country illegally. Homeland Security officials say they extradite only the most dangerous aliens, including convicted murderers and rapists. But critics say the FBI-DHS print swapping ensnares as many foreigners as possible, including those whose charges are minor or are ultimately dismissed.

Megna said Homeland Security is not part of the facial recognition pilot. But, Bush said in the future NGI’s data, including the photos, will be accessible by Homeland Security’s IDENT.

The planned addition of facial searches worries Sunita Patel, a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, who said, “Any database of personal identity information is bound to have mistakes. And with the most personal immutable traits like our facial features and fingerprints, the public can’t afford a mistake.”

In addition, Patel said she is concerned about the involvement of local police in information sharing for federal immigration enforcement purposes. “The federal government is using local cops to create a massive surveillance system,” she said.

Bush said, “We do have the capability to search against each other’s systems,” but added, “if you don’t come to the attention of law enforcement you don’t have anything to fear from these systems.”

Other civil liberties advocates questioned whether the facial recognition application would retrieve mug shots of those who have simply been arrested. “It might be appropriate to have nonconvicted people out of that system,” said Jim Harper, director of information policy at the libertarian Cato Institute. FBI officials declined to comment on the recommendation.

Harper also noted large-scale searches may generate a lot of false positives, or incorrect matches. Facial recognition “is more accurate with a Google or a Facebook, because they will have anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen pictures of an individual, whereas I imagine the FBI has one or two mug shots,” he said.

FBI officials would not disclose the name of the search product or the vendor, but said they gained insights on the technique’s accuracy by studying research from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
In responding to concerns about the creation of a Big Brother database for tracking innocent Americans, Megna said the system will not alter the FBI’s authorities or the way it conducts business. “This doesn’t change or create any new exchanges of data,” he said. “It only provides [law enforcement] with a new service to determine what photos are of interest to them.”

In 2008, the FBI released a privacy impact assessment summarizing its appraisal of controls in place to ensure compliance with federal privacy regulations. Megna said that, during meetings with the CJIS Advisory Policy Board and the National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact Council, “we haven’t gotten a whole lot of pushback on the photo capability.”

The FBI has an elaborate system of checks and balances to guard fingerprints, palm prints, mug shots and all manner of criminal history data, he said.

“This is not something where we want to collect a bunch of surveillance film” and enter it in the system, Megna said. “That would be useless to us. It would be useless to our users.”

Social media could render covert policing ‘impossible’

The generalized government demand for fully transparent identity turns out to have a downside for government officials (other than outing their gay hookups and sexting)

(via TechWorld)

Not even police officers can hide due to online information and use of biometrics, says ex-AFP commissioner

Facebook has proven to be one of the biggest dangers in keeping undercover police officers safe due to applications such as facial recognition and photo tagging, according to a adjunct professor at ANU and Charles Sturt University.

Mick Keelty, a former Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner, told the audience at Security 2011 in Sydney that because of the convergence of a number of technologies including biometrics, undercover policing may be “impossible” in the future.

He explained that were safety risks associated with undercover policing if people could be identified online.

“You can’t just immerse an officer into a crime group; it takes up to seven years to get them into the right place [in the gang] where they can feed back the intelligence that you need,” Keelty said.

“Than there is the cost of doing that such as when the AFP targets motorcycle gangs or when governments across the world have entered into agreements to place critical witnesses in prosecution matters in different parts of the world to hide them.”

Keelty is currently undertaking research into the policy implications of social networking for covert operations by police and security agencies.

He shared findings from a social networking survey conducted with the NSW Police, the AFP and other security agencies from December 2010 to February 2011.

“We surveyed them to try and measure the extent of exposure they already had in having their photos uploaded to the internet,” he said.

“The results found that 90 per cent of female officers were using social media compared with 81 per cent of males.”

The most popular site was Facebook, followed by Twitter. Forty seven per cent of those surveyed used social networking sites daily while another 24 per cent used them weekly. All respondents aged 26 years or younger had uploaded photos of themselves onto the internet.

“The thinking we had with this result means that the 16-year-olds of today who might become officers in the future have already been exposed.

“It’s too late [for them to take it down] because once it’s uploaded, it’s there forever.”

Of the people surveyed, 85 per cent had their photos uploaded on to the internet by another person.

Keelty said that until recently this has been a real problem because Facebook refused to remove photographs, but because of competition from Google+ it had started to remove photos at people’s request.

Alarmingly, 42 percent of respondents said it would be possible to identify their relationship with other people, including family and friends.

“If you have someone in the service who is trying to remain anonymous for whatever reason, it is still possible through other relationships to find them,” Keelty said.

The results of the survey would be used to inform future policy guidelines within both state and federal police agencies.

Well, that’s a great use of funds

I’m sure this big list will be just as accurate and efficient as any previous iteration.

Homeland Security plans to operate a massive new database of names, photos, birthdays and biometrics called Watchlist Service, duplicated from the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database which has proven not to be accurate many times in the past. DHS wants to exempt the Watchlist Service from Privacy Act provisions, meaning you will never know if you are wrongfully listed. Privacy groups worried about inaccurate info and mission creep have filed a protest, arguing the Privacy Act says DHS must notify subject of government surveillance.

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