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FBI rolling out nationwide face search and recognition system

Oct 11, 20115 mins
BiometricsData and Information SecurityData Center

The FBI is about to roll out a nationwide facial recognition system with a goal of matching a name to every unidentified face in photos. It's called the Next Generation Identification system and it will do much more than recognize faces; the $1 billion overhaul will combine biometric identifiers like fingerprints, palms, iris scans and voice recordings.

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Credit: Illus_man/Shutterstock

The FBI intends to go nationwide with a facial recognition service; testing will begin in Michigan, Washington, Florida and North Carolina by the middle of January 2012. By 2014, this new face search tool will be available to criminal justice professionals nationwide. One of the goals is to put a name to every photo already collected by law enforcement. For example, the FBI may have a picture on hand of Joe Doe but not know his name, and is therefore unable to determine if Doe is a “person of interest.” The FBI’s new Next Generation Identification (NGI) system will change all that by eliminating “the missing links.”

Nick Megna, a unit chief at the FBI’s criminal justice information services division, told Nextgov, “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.”

Nextgov reported the system is being overhauled to a tune of $1 billion to be faster and more accurate as well as add other biometric markers like “iris scans and voice recordings.” The NGI contract for a better “plug and play” recognition system was previously awarded to Lockheed Martin.

The FBI reported that NGI capabilities include:

  • Quality Check Automation with “faster response times and more consistent processing decisions” in regard to fingerprint processing.
  • Interstate Photo System Enhancements with facial recognition capabilities andthe ability to accept and search for photographs of scars, marks, and tattoos.”
  • Disposition Reporting Improvements with more options aimed at increasing electronic submissions of “disposition data.”
  • Advanced Fingerprint Identification Technology
  • Enhanced IAFIS Repository involving an “Iris Repository: This repository will provide the submission of Iris data, provide retrieval capability, provide Iris search capability, and provide Iris maintenance capability.”
  • FBI National Palm Print System

Of the multimodal biometrics, the FBI reported, “The NGI Program will advance the integration strategies and indexing of additional biometric data that will provide the framework for a future multimodal system that will facilitate biometric fusion identification techniques.” According to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS), “The world’s largest repository of criminal fingerprints and history records is being searched in a flash by investigators and police professionals working to catch crooks and terrorists. . . . That’s just the beginning of what goes on at CJIS.”

According to “Combating fraud with face recognition” on Scribd, proposed uses for the FBI facial recognition include:

The 2010 annual FBI / CJIS report [PDF] stated that the NGI program made progress on many different initiatives, including the piloting a new rapid search system based on the Repository for Individuals of Special Concern (RISC) with six law enforcement agencies. Other highlights from topics discussed that year included “privacy issues, operational prototypes, technology, interoperability of systems, real-time biometric capture and identifications, finding fugitives and missing persons with facial recognition, and rapidly processing DNA in a booking environment.”

Privacy and civil liberty advocates are concerned about photos being uploaded by local law enforcement upon arrest, but those same people may not actually be convicted of anything. Jim Harper, director of information policy at the libertarian Cato Institute, said “It might be appropriate to have nonconvicted people out of that system,” but the FBI declined to comment upon it. Harper said that face recognition via Google and Facebook would be “more accurate” due to the dozens of photos of the same individual. Law enforcement may only have a couple of mug shots which could cause false positives where a person is incorrectly identified.

Each piece of the FBI system ties together into a fairly alarming service for massive surveillance, identification and tracking. AxXiom for Liberty has an excellent “refresher” on biometric data that has been collected to be used as an “instrument of global identification, tracking and control.”

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.