FBI to Launch Nationwide Facial Recognition Service

by Aliya Sternstein
NextGov
October 7, 2011

The federal government is embarking on a multiyear, $1 billion dollar overhaul of the FBI’s existing fingerprint database to more quickly and accurately identify suspects, partly through applying other biometric markers, such as iris scans and voice recordings.

As it happens with many other government power grab moves, this new initiative is surrounded by "convenience" in order for people to accept it more easily.

Often law enforcement authorities will “have a photo of a person and for whatever reason they just don’t know who it is [but they know] this is clearly the missing link to our case,” said Nick Megna, a unit chief at the FBI’s criminal justice information services division. The new facial recognition service can help provide that missing link by retrieving a list of mug shots ranked in order of similarity to the features of the subject in the photo.

Today, an agent would have to already know the name of an individual to pull up the suspect’s mug shot from among the 10 million shots stored in the bureau’s existing Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. Using the new Next-Generation Identification system that is under development, law enforcement analysts will be able to upload a photo of an unknown person; choose a desired number of results from two to 50 mug shots; and, within 15 minutes, receive identified mugs to inspect for potential matches. Users typically will request 20 candidates, Megna said. The service does not provide a direct match.

Michigan, Washington, Florida and North Carolina will participate in a test of the new search tool this winter before it is offered to criminal justice professionals across the country in 2014 as part of NGI. The project, which was awarded to Lockheed Martin Corp. in 2008, already has upgraded the FBI’s fingerprint matching service.

Local authorities have the choice to file mug shots with the FBI as part of the booking process. The bureau expects its collection of shots to rival its repository of 70 million fingerprints once more officers are aware of the facial search’s capabilities.

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Facebook in new privacy row over facial recognition feature

Social network turns on new feature to automatically identify people in photos, raising questions about privacy implications of the service.

UK Guardian
June 8, 2011

Facebook has come under fire for quietly expanding the availability of technology to automatically identify people in photos, renewing concerns about its privacy practices.

The feature, which the giant social network automatically enabled for its more than 500 million users, has been expanded from the US to “most countries”, Facebook said on its official blog on Tuesday.

Marc Rotenberg, president of the non-profit privacy advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the system raised questions about which personally identifiable information, such as email addresses, would become associated with the photos in Facebook’s database.

He also criticised Facebook’s decision to automatically enable the facial-recognition technology for its users.

“I’m not sure that’s the setting that people would want to choose. A better option would be to let people opt-in,” he said.

Internet security consultancy Sophos noted that many Facebook users had seen the facial recognition option turned on without any notice in the last few days.

“Yet again, it feels like Facebook is eroding the online privacy of its users by stealth,” commented Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos.

Facebook’s “Tag Suggestions” feature uses facial recognition technology to speed up the process of labeling friends and acquaintances in photos posted on the site.

Facebook has been repeatedly criticised for changing settings involving privacy and identity in favour of making more data public in ways that means its users have to opt out of, rather than opt in to, the service.

Facebook, which announced in December that it planned to introduce the facial recognition service in the US, acknowledged that the feature was now more widely available.

The site also said in an emailed statement that “we should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process when this became available to them”.

The statement noted that the photo-tagging suggestions are only made when new photos are added to Facebook, that only friends are suggested and that users can disable the feature in their privacy settings.

While other photo software and online services such as Google Inc’s Picasa and Apple Inc’s iPhoto use facial recognition technology, its use on a social network like Facebook could raise thorny privacy issues.

Google has stepped away from the widespread implementation of its Google Goggles service, which would try to identify people based on facial recognition through mobile phones running its Android operating system. Instead it only uses it for translating text and identifying objects. Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, said earlier in June that he had concerns about its use with people.

“We do have the relevant facial recognition technology at our disposal. But we haven’t implemented this on Google Goggles because we want to consider the privacy implications and how this feature might be added responsibly,” he said. “I’m very concerned personally about the union of mobile tracking and face recognition.”

Rotenberg noted that Apple’s iPhoto software gave users control over facial recognition technology by letting them elect whether or not to use it with their personal photo collections.

Facebook’s technology, by contrast, operates independently, analysing faces across a broad swathe of newly uploaded photos.

Last year the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint about Facebook’s privacy practices with the US Federal Trade Commission, which Rotenberg said was still pending.

He noted that he planned to take a close look at Facebook’s new announcement involving facial recognition technology.

South Wales Government recording citizens’ facial features

Daily Telegraph

The New South Wales Government is quietly compiling a mathematical map of almost every adult’s face, sharing

Face recognition technology used to spy on citizens in South Wales.

information that allows law enforcement to track people by CCTV.

Experts said yesterday few people realised their facial features were being recorded in an RTA database of drivers licence photos that the Government has allowed both state and federal police to access, The Daily Telegraph reports.

The federal body CrimTrac has asked NSW for its database so it can be mined nationally by police using the facial recognition information contained in it.

University experts in facial recognition said the correct match rate was as low as 90 per cent, meaning the names of people with faces sharing a similar structure to criminals could be returned in searches.

Dr Carolyn Semmler from the University of Adelaide said police wanted to eventually use facial recognition in smart CCTV cameras allowing people to be tracked anywhere there was a camera.

Some airports, such as Singapore, employ facial recognition technology and the US is considering using it at border crossings.

“Police hope that at some point an individual can be tracked,” Dr Semmler said yesterday.

Professor Sowmya Arcot from the University of NSW said a “matrix of numbers” based on features and the distance between facial structures was derived using an algorithm applied to a photograph of a face.

That could then be matched to other faces stored in a database.

NSW Opposition police spokesman Mike Gallacher said most people were unaware their face had been mapped when they applied for or had their licences renewed, allowing them to potentially be tracked.

“Over 20 years ago we had a debate about the Australia card and the people of this country showed where they stood in relation to the government knowing people’s movements,” he said.

“The push for this into the future has far greater ramifications than some old Australia card.

“I have a concern about a lack of public debate.”

The RTA began compiling its facial recognition database last December.

Roads Minister David Borger said it would be shared with other government agencies.

“While the facial recognition system is in its early stages, the RTA will co-operate with other agencies wherever possible,” he said.

“The RTA already provides information to the police, and will co-operate with other state or federal law enforcement agencies.”

He said the technology was also preventing fraud and stopping people obtaining multiple licences.

A spokeswoman for CrimTrac said its board of management had granted approval for a project proposal for a nation facial recognition capability.