Surely Nothing Will Go Wrong With The FBI’s Facial Recognition Database

Senior Contributor
04.15.14 5 Comments

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There’s a lot that’s been written about what might happen when the government finally gets a facial recognition program up and running. And apparently the FBI will be putting those predictions to the test as soon as this summer, because that’s when their facial recognition database will be up and running!

Essentially, this is part of the FBI’s Next Generation Identification program, or NGI. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been suing the FBI for more information, amid all the other lawsuits it has out against the FBI, and the FBI finally acknowledged a FOIA request and coughed up the relevant data. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect, according to the EFF:

The records we received show that the face recognition component of NGI may include as many as 52 million face images by 2015. 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.

One of our biggest concerns about NGI has been the fact that it will include non-criminal as well as criminal face images. We now know that FBI projects that by 2015, the database will include 4.3 million images taken for non-criminal purposes.

If you’re wondering what “criminal face images” are, think mugshots. Also, we are 99% sure the FBI is actually lying on here, for two reasons. One, the FBI hates the EFF, for obvious reasons.

Two, there’s a massive database of non-criminal faces sitting out on the Internet for any moron with a photo scraper to pick up, that’s named Facebook, for God’s sake. The FBI may not be adding Facebook images to their database yet… but it’s in the works, we guarantee it.

Being as this is a government project, the EFF also turned up some hilarious incompetence. The average resolution of the images in the database were… .75 megapixels. Yes, that decimal place is intentional. Also, the FBI is merging criminal and non-criminal databases, and claims it’s not responsible if their system screws up and returns a hit on a background check. This will last for precisely the length of one lawsuit.

The NGI system is probably never going to function as advertised. Still, it’s worth being concerned about, and it’s only a matter of time before the system screws up. So, if you go to the airport a year or two from now, and are bomb-squaded by five rentacops and six air marshals, you’ll at least know who to blame.

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