FBI facial recognition system operational

The FBI announced today that its billion-dollar Next Generation Identification (NGI) program is now fully operational. This new system is meant to act as a replacement for the agency’s  Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). This new tool has a couple of new features, one of which is the ability to be continually scanning for images…of you. 

This system is designed to search for criminals via facial recognition and correlate against records in the hopes of bagging other bad guys. The mother of all big-data law-enforcement projects, it scans faces, it scans biometric information, and it correlates this data (insert voice of Tom Popeil). It is a law enforcement dream come true. This system really does creep me out the more I think about it.  The first of two features that are included in the new system is called Rap Bank. This is a streaming capability that is set up to receive continual updates of any criminal records that are entered into the system. The second component is called the Interstate Photo System. This is where I start to get rather uncomfortable. This is the system that will be able to scan for pictures that are “associated with criminal identities,” which is ambiguous language at best.  From the FBI Press release:

This latest phase of NGI is only one portion of the FBI’s NGI System. Since phase one was deployed in February 2011, the NGI system has introduced enhanced automated fingerprint and latent search capabilities, mobile fingerprint identification, and electronic image storage, all while adding enhanced processing speed and automation for electronic exchange of fingerprints to more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies and other authorized criminal justice partners 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

This is by no means ready for prime time yet. As the system matures, so will the accuracy. But as this system grows, a question comes to mind: Will all of the images and biometric information stored in the system that are related to innocent people be expunged? Is this meant to act as a permanent record? Will only information pertaining to criminals be stored? Will this simply be a storehouse of everyone that they can possibly scan?
At this rate I can’t help but wonder if we can expect minority reports in the future. 

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