In what should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody (as we previewed it here years ago), a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reveals that the FBI has compiled a massive facial recognition database without any oversight.
The FBI has accessed driver's license photo databases from 16 states, as well as passport and visa photo databases from the State Department which were used to compile a facial recognition database of millions of Americans and foreigners who have never been accused of a crime TechCrunch reports.
The FBI has access to a stunning 411.9 million images for use in its facial recognition program, and while that should be enough to disturb everyone, the fact that the FBI ignored the Privacy Act which requires government agencies to disclose how they harvest and use personal information such as ID photos should ratchet that anxiety up a bit more. Oh, and one more thing, it's working with 16 more states to provide even further database access as well.
According to the report, the DOJ has an oversight structure in place to help ensure privacy protections, but didn't approve the program until well over three years since the pilot began.
Speaking of privacy protections, the report found that the FBI has never done a true audit of the system to test its accuracy, so it doesn't even know if it's reliable or not.
"There appears to be no internal oversight on this system and that's remarkable. Today we found out that they have no idea if they're misusing it or not, they've [FBI] literally never done an audit." said Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law. "They might not be storing these photos at Quantico but it has built, in effect, a nationwide biometric database using driver's license photos. It's breathtaking" Bedoya added.
"I have always maintained that Americans have a fundamental right to privacy, and I believe that in order to protect this right, our citizens must have a basic understanding the tools law enforcement uses to keep them safe. This GAO report raises some very serious concerns, and reveals that the FBI's use of facial recognition technology is far greater than had previously been understood. This is especially concerning because the report shows that the FBI hasn't done enough to audit its own use of facial recognition technology or that of other law enforcement agencies that partner with the FBI, nor has it taken adequate steps to ensure the technology's accuracy." Senator Al Franken said in a statement on the report.
One final point that should keep everyone up at night (but won't) is the fact that the FBI has proposed that the database be exempt from the provisions in the Privacy Act completely. Said otherwise, the FBI wants to (continue to) collect data on people and never have to disclose how it's collected, and what it's used for. Then again by doing whatever it wants anyway, we're already at that point.
Land of the free, and such.