FBI is working on a $1 billion facial recognition database, all your faces are belong to them

Did you think facial recognition software in the hands of law enforcement is only something in the movies? Well, to an extent, it really is something only in movies. However, with the FBI’s $1 billion Next Generation Identification program, this will change and it will change as soon as 2014.

The FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) program is a project that aims to better deal with crime by storing biometrics of criminals in an American national database. The NGI plans on using a variety of tools to better identify criminals, with one of the biggest ones being facial recognition while others include voice identification, DNA analysis, and iris scans.

The purpose behind using facial recognition in the NGI is two-fold. The FBI wants to be able to identify criminals from a large crowd using facial recognition and, conversely, be able to identify criminals from still photos by running their photos through NGI’s database. Of course for NGI to be successful there needs to be input of facial data into the database. The FBI is accomplishing this flow of information by using mugshots but also by partnering with driver license issuing state agencies and using driver license photos.

While the FBI has not gone public with what software and algorithms they are using for NGI, a study conducted in 2010 shows that the system has a 92% accuracy in picking out a person from 1.6 million mugshots. And, as shown by Marios Savvides’s lab at Carnegie Mellon, the technology is here to be able to identify people who aren’t even looking directly at a camera (i.e. side shots of faces).

Conspiracy theories aside, the NGI is aimed at criminals and not for general purpose surveillance. As the NewScientist points out, in July 2012 the FBI’s Jerome Pender told a Senate hearing that a pilot program of NGI used a searchable photo database that included only mugshots of known criminals. However, there are bound to be privacy concerns with this type of thing and rightly so; as attorney Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out, “it’s unclear from the NGI’s privacy statement whether that [criminal mugshots only] will remain the case once the entire system is up and running or if civilian photos might be added”. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) isn’t exactly receptive of the NGI either. Jay Stanley the ACLU cautions that “once you start plugging this [driver license photos] into the FBI database, it becomes tantamount to a national photographic database”.

The NGI is currently being tested in limit piloted studies in the United States. The FBI plans on rolling out nationwide by 2014. Come 2014, all your faces are belong to them.

[via NewScientist]

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  • clockmendergb

    I just took it for granted that they already have this technology up and running at the borders.

  • Shava Nerad


    It’s already a known thing. It’s just how to do it with flair and that certain “je ne sais FU” :)


  • Ashraf

    @Shava Nerad: If Hollywood is to be believed, you can’t beat facial recognition. Silly mr. executive. :-P

  • Shava Nerad

    I’ve considered seeking partners for a startup to create facial recognition foiling makeup and fashion. I’ve worked in both online privacy (founding execdir of https://torproject.org) and the pop culture fashion industry (VP/Marketing & BizDev of eMarket Group, which was a transformative force in licensed merch pop culture clubwear and such in the early 2000s). Hey, my resume makes perfect sense to Henry Jenkins, really…:)

    This would be particularly profitable in a market like the UK where there are cameras on every damn street corner. But I’ve actually sketched out some fine looks, very Gaga/Bowie for the evening stuff, a little millinery lace here and there, very glam, very Blade Runner. You need to really alter the planes of the face, or create “chaff” between the camera and the face using veils or other interference.

    There’s fun work to be done here.