Huge FBI facial recognition database flawed: audit

The FBI's facial recognition database includes some 30 million criminal mugshots and 140 million images from visa applications b
The FBI's facial recognition database includes some 30 million criminal mugshots and 140 million images from visa applications by foreign nationals
A facial recognition database compiled by the FBI has more than 400 million images to help criminal investigations, but lacks adequate safeguards for accuracy and privacy protection, a congressional audit shows.

The huge database—which enables investigators to search images to match those of criminal suspects—"is far greater than had previously been understood" and raises concerns "about the risk of innocent Americans being inadvertently swept up in criminal investigations," said Senator Al Franken, who requested the study.

"I will be asking tough questions about the FBI's use of facial recognition technology," the Minnesota senator said as he released the Government Accountability Office report on Wednesday.

The FBI's database of 411 million photos includes some 30 million criminal mugshots and 140 million images from visa applications by foreign nationals, the GAO found.

It also contains drivers' license pictures from 16 US states and 6.7 million photos from the Defense Department's biometric identification system of individuals detained by US forces abroad, among others.

The system enables the FBI to use pictures of unidentified people to determine if they are being sought in criminal investigations, and can also assist local law enforcement agencies.

But the FBI has failed to adequately assess the system's accuracy for its own images and those held by other agencies, the audit found.

"The FBI should better ensure privacy and accuracy," the report said.

The agency has not done enough to protect against "false positives," which can prompt the authorities to target innocent people, the GAO said.

"FBI officials stated that they have not assessed how often (the system's) face recognition searches erroneously match a person to the database," the report said.

"The accuracy of a system can have a significant impact on individual privacy and civil liberties," it added, saying that the false positive rate should be analyzed "prior to the deployment of the system."

"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," Franken said.

Senator Al Franken, pictured on May 19, 2015, requested an audit of the FBI's facial recognition database
Senator Al Franken, pictured on May 19, 2015, requested an audit of the FBI's facial recognition database
Worrisome impact

Civil liberties advocates said the report was worrisome.

Alvaro Bedoya, who heads the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown University's law school, called the report "startling," saying it revealed that facial recognition is being used on a much larger scale than had been disclosed.

"They've done this without any judicial oversight, without any audits, without any statutes that rein in their work," he said.

"We don't know if it's been misused and the people subject to this don't know they were a part of it. It's a breathtaking exercise of an extraordinarily powerful technology with little to no oversight."

Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation agreed.

The report shows the FBI "has access to hundreds of millions more photos than we ever thought—and the bureau has been hiding this fact from the public, in flagrant violation of federal law and agency policy, for years," she said.

The database contains "an unprecedented number of photographs, most of which are of Americans and foreigners who have committed no crimes," she added.

Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union said errors "mean random people could be falsely identified as potential criminals and find themselves coming under the FBI's powerful investigatory microscope."

This "could be not only invading people's privacy, but also exposing them to accusations of wrongdoing," he said in a blog post.

The Justice Department, the FBI's parent agency, responded to the report saying the GAO "does not fully appreciate the nature of its face recognition service for investigative leads."

The FBI program "proceeded carefully and deliberately" and followed its privacy guidelines, operating "in strict compliance with state and federal law," it added.

The GAO's report noted that the program—which became fully operational in April 2015 following a pilot program launched in 2011—has already been used to apprehend a bank robbery suspect and helped identify a sex offender who had been a fugitive for nearly 20 years.


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Jun 16, 2016
I said it before, and I will say it again: Having served as Deputy Foreperson on a Federal Criminal Grand Jury in 70 sessions in 24 months, I do NOT trust the Department of Justice.

How many Republican Attorneys General have gone to prison? Maybe they have always been conservative crooks. My service was in the Ashcroft/Gonzales days of abuse and treason.

Jun 16, 2016
I said it before, and I will say it again: Having served as Deputy Foreperson on a Federal Criminal Grand Jury in 70 sessions in 24 months, I do NOT trust the Department of Justice.

Uh huh. Try asking who, on this forum, trusts you.

Jun 16, 2016
Anti, please take your inability to get along somewhere else.

That was not for you, it was for thinking folk, folk with intelligence, empathy, and curiosity, not just a bag of nastiness.

rgw
Jun 16, 2016
The first query is simple. Is this worrisome aspect of digital facial recognition better, worse or similar to having humans do the same work?

Jun 17, 2016
This is actually a pretty big deal since it includes drivers' license photos. Without a clear idea how well the system works and particularly what the false positive rate is, I find this pretty worrying. This looks like a great area for some strong oversight. Franken strikes again. He's a pretty sharp guy from what I've seen so far.

Jun 17, 2016
Oh, and this after they totally screwed the pooch on iPhonegate. I mean, seriously, you sue to breach everyone's privacy and oh by the way turns out some private firm did a better job than you did so now you can just give it up like it never happened? I'll remember that a very, very long time, y'know? I lost a lot of respect for the FBI's IT skillz there.

Jun 17, 2016
Ogg,while on the federal criminal grand jury, I saw institutional grudges in action, as one after the other assistant US Attorneys went after Barry Bonds for lying to us. He was not the only one who obviously lied to us in those years, but he pissed them off. It was an Institutional Grudge.

Meanwhile, our Attorney General had kidnapped Jose Padilla off the streets and were holding him secretly in an underground prison with NO RIGHTS. We have a lot of cleaning up to do from the Bush Years.

Jun 17, 2016
The government is the only thing we have between us and the Bad Guys. Now, it seems the Bad Guys got put into power by the Bush Crime Family.

I learned to FEAR the DOJ while I was on the Grand Jury in the Bush Years. They were out-of-control. If we do not identify those crooks and put them in PRISON, we have failed.

Jun 17, 2016
Yesterday I called the DOJ and registered a complaint to get the process started for an investigation into why they kept us from looking into what later turned out to be a national crisis.

Jun 17, 2016
@ gkam. No one gives a fuck about you or what you have done. Why do you find it impossible to ever make or argue a point on the issues or ideas alone? SHUT THE HELL UP ALREADY, you are not that interesting.

Jun 17, 2016
Sion, thanks for the reply. We always encourage folk to be natural and let their true character out, so you fit right in.

If it succeeds, you might have a different view of it.

Probably not, . . emotional overload makes it hard to react rationally.

Jun 17, 2016
Sion might have a different view if he were to see how it works behind the closed doors. He does not get it: It is against the law to rat them out. They make sure you cannot tell what you want to tell, threatened with draconian punishments.

I am going to rat them out. If the DOJ does nothing soon, I start with the congressmen and senators. The world is going to find out what happened in the terrible Bush Years of crime and treason.

Jun 17, 2016
I said it before, and I will say it again: Having served as Deputy Foreperson on a Federal Criminal Grand Jury in 70 sessions in 24 months, I do NOT trust the Department of Justice
I said it before, and I will say it again: everybody here thinks youre full of shit because of all your lies. WHY do you insist on reminding everybody of this?
thinking folk, folk with intelligence, empathy, and curiosity
Lying cheating psychopaths like george kamburoff dont have these qualities.

Jun 17, 2016
@ Soinach-Skippy. How you are? Yeah, I am good, thanks. Have you ever seen this one?

https://www.youtu...3b2mxl2M

Jun 17, 2016
"The huge database... raises concerns "about the risk of innocent Americans being inadvertently swept up in criminal investigations"

-And yet frankin and the other liberals want us to trust the govt with a terrorist watch list to deny gun ownership when it has already been abused.
http://ccrjustice...s-become

-Even the ACLU thinks it is illegal.
https://www.aclu....tchlists

"They can include questioning, harassment, or detention by authorities, or even an indefinite ban on air travel. And while the government keeps the evidence it uses to blacklist people in this manner secret, government watchdogs have found that as many as 35 percent of the nominations to the network of watchlists are outdated and tens of thousands of names were placed on lists without an adequate factual basis."

Jun 17, 2016
We always encourage folk to be natural and let their true character out, so you fit right in
Yes psychopaths will encourage potential victims to let their guard down so that they may inadvertently reveal useful info.

"One psychopath interviewed by Hare's team said quite frankly: "The first thing I do is I size you up. I look for an angle, an edge, figure out what you need and give it to you. Then it's pay-back time, with interest. I tighten the screws."
http://www.cassio...path.htm

-Strangely, george kamburoff will do this with his own most sensitive personal info. Does he expect the people here to do the same in return?

Nobody here is that stupid george.
I am going to rat them out
But they will do a web search which will lead them here and they will find out just who and what george kamburoff really is.

Wages of sin george.

Jun 17, 2016
@ glam-Skippy. How you are Cher? That's the rhetoric question, I can see you are just as stupid as you always are.

What is with the double down voting Skippy? You learn to do that from Nounemon-Skippy? So let see how this works,,,,,, I quit voting on you and having fun with you, so you double down vote me,,,,, and what? You think I am just not going to notice? Non, I think it is you are hoping I notice because you miss me fooling around with you. Okayeei, you got my attentions again, now what? You got to be the stupidest idiot on the physorg, and Cher, that is non little feat.

rgw
Jul 23, 2016
What I find unacceptable is the FBI's (apparent) total disregard for determination of the accuracy of the method they spent millions implementing and maintaining. What is wrong with these people? I guess their objective is to "solve" a case and convict someone, anyone without really caring whether the convict actually was the perpetrator. Just like their crime lab, the object is convictions, regardless of the truth.


This is a hysterical statement. It does prove that people who have no contact with reality have ever been investigated much less prosecuted by the FBI. Fortunately for you, hiding in a Fantasy ahaket, couch/sheet tent in Mom's basement saves you from hostile confrontations with the amoral and evil FBI.

Jul 23, 2016
Individually, I trust government agents. Collectively, I do not.

They become a governmental mob with the Law and Absolute Truth, and you had not be in their self-righteous way.

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