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FBI Facial Recognition Program Under The Microscope |
Security & privacy

FBI’s facial recognition database has half of all U.S. adults on file

Where do you stand on the issue of national security versus privacy? It’s been in the news a lot lately. We recently told you how the CIA could be spying on you.

Now, the FBI’s facial recognition program is making headlines.

How the FBI’s facial recognition program works

Facial recognition has been part of the FBI’s Next Generation Identification program for years. It’s a biometric method of identifying someone by comparing live capture or digital image data with the stored record of that person, typically used for security purposes.

This week, congress held a hearing putting the FBI program under the microscope. It came under a fierce bi-partisan attack from politicians on both sides of the aisle. They said using facial recognition software violates Americans’ privacy and leads to the arrests of innocent people.

It turns out that over 400 million pictures of Americans’ faces are stored in local, state and federal law enforcement databases. It’s estimated that half of all adults in the U.S. are in the databases.

An FBI official said at the hearing, “The only information the FBI has and has collected in our database are criminal mugshot photos.” However, that doesn’t include databases held by local and state law enforcement agencies. Those include images from driver’s licenses, mugshots, passports, security videos and visas.

The FBI has agreements with 18 U.S. states that give it access to all of these databases. The agency is working on getting access to all state databases.

Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz said, “Like many technologies, used in the wrong hands or without appropriate parameters, it is ripe for abuse. It would be one thing if facial recognition technology were perfect or near perfect, but it clearly is not. Facial recognition technology does make mistakes.”

Internal FBI documents prove Chaffetz’s remarks. They revealed that the FBI’s system has an acceptable margin of error of 20 percent. Meaning there is a one out of five chance of identifying the suspect incorrectly.

Tennessee Representative John Duncan said at the hearing, “I think we’re reaching a very sad point, a very dangerous point when we’re doing away with the reasonable expectation of privacy about anything.”

Privacy advocates are concerned about the growing database of images too. The main worry is that normal, everyday citizens like you and me will get caught up in the system and be grouped in with criminals, which could lead to some unfortunate events for many people.

An ACLU spokesperson said in a statement, “Face recognition is a relatively new technology and it’s important that not only the FBI but the public be aware of its limitations. Errors mean random people could be falsely identified as potential criminals and find themselves coming under the FBI’s powerful investigatory microscope. That could be not only invading people’s privacy but also exposing them to accusations of wrongdoing.”

What do you think, are these databases necessary for national security? Leave a comment and let us know.

More stories you can’t miss:

How to protect your privacy on neighborhood sites like Nextdoor

4 reasons private browsing isn’t as private as you think

300 million Apple users at risk of hacks unless Apple pays ransom

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