Security & Fraud

The FBI’s 411M Photo Database Is Exposed

FBI Photo Database Facial Recogniion

A new study has landed the FBI in hot water when it comes to privacy concerns.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, released last Wednesday (June 15), sheds light on a database of more than 411 million photos maintained by the FBI.

The agency reportedly uses the photos — gathered from a variety of sources, such as driver’s licenses, passport applications and visa applications — and facial recognition software to find criminals, The Guardian said.

The photos in the database are cross-referenced with pictures of criminals in order to make a match, but many are questioning the validity and accuracy of the technology being utilized.

The Next Generation Identification-Interstate Photo System (NGI-IPS, or NGI), as it’s referred to by many, also enables the FBI and some state and local agencies to cross-reference the collection of photos in the database against surveillance camera footage and other pictures.

“The FBI has done very minimal testing on the accuracy of their internal system,” Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told The Guardian.

“We submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and asked about NGI; in the records we received, they hedged. They guaranteed 80 percent, maybe 85 percent accuracy, if the candidate is in the top 50 responses. So, basically, what they’re saying is that it’s highly inaccurate! And as the database gets larger, the accuracy goes down.”

In its study, the GAO, an internal watchdog agency within the federal government, said the FBI has failed at properly disclosing how the existence of its database may have implications on public privacy.

“It’s one thing to develop a system that is made to detect fraud,” Lynch added. “If you have a false positive in a fraud situation, that may mean that somebody has to come down to the DMV and provide further information before they get their new driver’s license. That’s a pain, but it’s not equivalent to being arrested and having to explain yourself to a law enforcement officer while you’re sitting in jail.”

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