FBI Gathering Your Images

FBI Gathering Your Images for Massive Facial Recognition Program

The FBI is expected to have over 52 million images in their facial recognition software database by next year according to documents obtained by the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) in the course of a lawsuit to expose the FBI’s program. According to the documents, the FBI is collecting the images of millions of Americans from both governmental and non-governmental sources, and sharing them with government agencies across the nation.

Privacy Concerns

The FBI program is called the Next Generation Identification, or NGI, program.  One component of the program is a database that stores your image and compares it to similar images already in their database.  The program then begins to build a profile of you – where you go, with whom you associate, and more.   This is a major concern for privacy advocates who argue that such a vast system is ripe for abuse, and may violate our rights to free speech and association.

In addition to the facial recognition component, the government database will store a whole host of other information including voice scans, iris scans, fingerprints, and other biometric identifiers.  In the future, you may be required to provide this information as part of a pre-employment scan.  Currently, many employers can require you submit a fingerprint and palm print that they will send to the FBI to check your criminal records.  This employment related data has traditionally be stored separately from criminal related data.  The NGI will no longer segregate these categories, and will instead dump all of the data into a central database system that can be accessed by any number of governmental, and possibly non-governmental agencies.

What’s the problem?

Civil rights advocates are concerned that the NGI program will have a dramatic effect on free speech.  When combined with other government tracking capabilities, there is virtually no way to hide your political or other affiliations.  This, they say, will lead to a chilling effect of people willing to publicly associate and share in the exchange of ideas.

One of the reasons the Founding Fathers included the right to free speech is because the British government was attending political functions and targeting those in attendance for criminal investigations.  We do have the right to due process, and have other rights that help us defend ourselves against such aggressive government actions.  But, having that right is meaningless if the government can influence our actions by threat of investigation or prosecution for constitutionally protected activities.  Defending yourself against any criminal charge is expensive and time consuming, and advocates fear people will be less likely to engage in lawful activities in order to avoid those costs.

Data Protection

Another major concern for opponents to this program is the apparent lack of safeguards in protecting the data.  No software program is fully protected.  Any software or organization can be hacked – including the FBI.  When this system is eventually hacked – and it will be – there is little to nothing you can do to protect yourself from future fraud.  Unlike a social security number or other assigned identifiers, you cannot change your biometric data.  Once that data falls into the hands of people who use it for improper purposes you may be liable for their illegal activities.  To further compound this problem is the fact that the FBI specifically disclaims any liability for how the information they gather on you will be used by them, or anyone else – including hackers.

What is your thoughts on this program?  Does the benefits outweigh the risks for you?  Does it outweigh the risks for our society?  Go to our Facebook page and share your thoughts.