FBI Gathered Facial Recognition Data For Years In Secrecy

A representative of the FBI was grilled by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding the agencies growing biometric database. 

Washington D.C. – On Wednesday Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch will testify at a 

hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the FBI’s efforts to build up and link together massive facial recognition databases that may be used to track innocent people as they go about their daily lives.

The FBI has amassed a facial recognition database of more than 30 million photographs and has access to hundreds of millions more. The databases include photos of people who aren’t suspected of any criminal activity that come from driver’s license and passport and visa photos, even as the underlying identification technology becomes ever more powerful. The government has done little to address the privacy implications of this massive collection of biometric information.

The technology, like other biometric programs, such as fingerprint and DNA collection, poses critical threats to privacy and civil liberties.

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Law Enforcement’s Use of Facial Recognition Technology

he Federal Bureau of Investigations is facing a new lawsuit from EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) regarding the agency’s latest biometric identification system. The FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) system is made up of fingerprints, iris scans, faceprints, and other facial recognition data. EPIC is suing regarding the FBI’s plan to include tattoos and scars in the database.

According to EPIC:

“With NGI, the FBI will expand the number of uploaded photographs and provide investigators with ‘automated facial recognition search capability.’ The FBI intends to do this by eliminating restrictions on the number of submitted photographs (including photographs that are not accompanied by tenprint fingerprints) and allowing the submission of non-facial photographs (e.g. scars or tattoos).”

“The FBI also widely disseminates this NGI data. According to the FBI’s latest NGI fact sheet, 24,510 local, state, tribal, federal and international partners submitted queries to NGI in September 2016.”

EPIC is asking a judge to force the FBI to release records about its plan to share the biometric data with the U.S. Department of Defense. EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act request last year, but the FBI has so far refused to release the 35 pages of responsive records. EPIC and privacy advocates are concerned about the potential for cases of mistaken identity and abuse of the collected data. EPIC also argues “the FBI stated that ‘[i]ncreased collection and retention of personally identifiable information presents a correspondingly increased risk that the FBI will then be maintaining more information that might potentially be subject to loss or unauthorized use.”

In 2014, EFF received documents from the FBI related to the NGI system. Based on the records, EFF estimated the facial recognition component of NGI would include as many as 52 million face images by 2015. Indeed, the danger of abuse from facial recognition programs is on the rise. Activist Post recently highlighted a new report from Georgetown Law University’s Center for Privacy and Technology that details how law enforcement is using facial recognition software without the knowledge or consent of the people. The report, “The Perpetual Line-Up: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America,” examines several cases of misuse or abuse of facial recognition technology.

Chairman Chaffetz (R-UT

Approximately half of adult Americans’ photographs are in a FRT database.

  • 18 states each have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the FBI to share photos with the federal government, including from state departments of motor vehicles (DMV). The committee identified Maryland and Arizona as having MOUs with the FBI.
  • The FBI used facial recognition technology (FRT) for years without first publishing a privacy impact assessment, as required by law.
  • The FBI went to great lengths to exempt itself from certain provisions of the Privacy Act.

“So here’s the problem – you’re required by law to put out a privacy statement and you didn’t. And now we’re supposed to trust you with hundreds of millions of people’s faces in a system that you couldn’t protect even with the 702 issue.”

the failure here is years after you were supposed to make it public. you were using it real world circumstance, you were actually using it and didnt issue the statement

do you have plans to match this up against anything on social media? are you collecting that information that is available on social media. “we do not have any other photos in our repository”

Thats not true. “no drivers license photos.”

Mr. Alvaro Bedoya Executive Director, Center on Privacy and Technology Georgetown Law

“we have access to that data but we do not use it”

Jennifer lynch has access to civil photos in it own NGI database

Ms. Kimberly Del Greco
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Deputy Assistant Director, Criminal Justice Information Services Division

Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI): “I think the issue goes beyond the first amendment concerns that were expressed. . .and is broader. I don’t want to just protect someone if they’re in a political protest from being identified, the reality is we should protect everybody unless there is a valid documented criminal justice action. Why should my photo. . .be subject because I get a driver’s license, to access?”

Rep. John Duncan (R-TN): “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.”

Duncan referenced recent media reports regarding the database, stating that Americans looking at the information “would wonder if were ending up in a federal police state that’s gotten totally out of control, and has far too much power.”


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