Smile – The FBI Know Your Face!

Smile – The FBI Know Your Face!

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has appeared in the news a lot recently, with many of its practices being considered questionable. Firstly they were found to be tracking, intercepting and analysing information from all over the world thanks to PRISM, then they tried to force Apple to create custom software they could install and gain access to an iPhone and now it would appear that even their facial recognition software is questionable.

The latest piece of information comes from the Government Accountability Office (GAO)’s report titled “FACE RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY: FBI Should Better Ensure Privacy And Accuracy“. As its title lists, the software in question is the FBI’s facial recognition software that has been marked as at “full operational capability” for two years now. The software is question contains 30 million mug shots, helping identify criminals who have previously committed a crime from a video or picture containing just a glimpse of your face. The problem the GAO have is where else the system can get its pictures, and it would appear anywhere.

The facial analysis, comparison, and evaluation services unit doesn’t just hold the millions of mug shots but also has access to driving license photos from 16 different states, the state departments visa and passport database and even the biometric database controlled by the Defence Department. The big issue here is that many of those photos and details stored in the system are of people who have never committed a crime, meaning that the software and its purpose goes beyond what it was ever designed and agreed upon.

The report states that unless the FBI can agree that all the information they receive from external systems, how can they be used for anything other than identifying innocent people incorrectly. In responses to previous questions regarding the use of the system, the FBI stated it had “established practices that protect privacy and civil liberties beyond the requirements of the law”. This may not seem very reassuring given their history and raises questions about how do we make sure technology is only used for the purposes it was designed for and never abused for personal gain.

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