The FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) facial regonition database

Facial Recognition

With “big data” comes big responsibility. Expansive security-surveillance networks are now resonating together on an unprecedented scale, and so much of this growth has taken place without any serious consideration of whether we are making a safer, more peaceful planet to live inside. After all, the scope of the NSA-CIA-FBI-GCHQ apparatus is global in its reach, and as such, needs to be understood as part and parcel of living in a globalized world. This also means that any “blowback” will also be planetary in nature and effect.

The internet unites and also divides us like never before. One of the consequences of 21st century cyber-(dis)connection has been the reformatting of war and law enforcement into a single exercise in digital forensics. Except, instead of patrol cars we have drones, and instead of detectives we have algorithms. (See: The Kill-Net: NSA and CIA Collaboration in Drone Manhunt)

As I’ve sometimes joked, prisons will one day be unnecessary if all of society resembles one vast correctional facility.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports on the FBI’s growing digital surveillance apparatus. In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the FBI has provided details for its “Next Generation Identification” biometric database that may hold records for as much as one third of the U.S. population. NGI expands upon the FBI’s fingerprint databse, which contains over 100 million individual records. The evolution of the databse is designed to hold multiple forms of biographic data, and is shared across 18,000 federal and state law enforcement agencies

The records received by the EFF reveal that the facal recognition component of the NGI may already hold 52 million face images by 2015. “By 2012, NGI already contained 13.6 million images representing between 7 and 8 million individuals, and by the middle of 2013, the size of the database increased to 16 million images. The new records reveal that the database will be capable of processing 55,000 direct photo enrollments daily and of conducting tens of thousands of searches every day.”

The NGI databse is being built by MorphoTrust (formerly L-1 Identity Solutions), which is the company that has built facial recognition systems used by approximately 35 state DMVs and other commercial businesses.

Controversially, the NGI will include images of Americans that have never committed a crime–the FBI projects that by 2015 it will hold 4.3 images taken for non-criminal purposes. Currently, if you apply for a job in the U.S. that requires a background check, your prints are sent to and stored by the FBI in is “civil print database.” Photographs were previously omitted. This will change with NGI: if an employer requires a “mug shot” with your finger prints, the FBI will hold that data. All of this information will then be fed into a single database. The FBI previously kept criminal and non-criminal fingerprint databses separate. “Now every record—whether criminal or non—will have a “Universal Control Number” (UCN), and every search will be run against all records in the database. 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.”

Can you imagine what the “blowback” would be if such a database is hacked? A “heartbleed” of epic proportions..

At the very least, such a system of “one database to rule them all” erases altogether the need for probable cause, and at worst, criminalizes everyone.

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