FBI’s Face Photo Database Has Grown to 641 Million, Says Oversight Body

FBI's Face Photo Database Has Grown to 641 Million, Says Oversight Body

“Testifying at this week’s congressional hearing, an FBI representative asserted that the organization is committed to the protection of citizen’s privacy and civil liberties…”

The FBI’s collection of citizens’ face images appears to have expanded considerably since a 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office exposed its secret Facial Analysis, Comparison, and Evaluation, or “FACE”, program.

That’s one takeaway from a new GAO report presented this week at a congressional hearing on the government’s use of facial recognition technology, with the GAO’s prepared testimony indicating that the FBI now has 641 million photos of people’s faces. About 36 million of those are from the FBI’s Interstate Photo System of mugshots, but many of the rest could be from non-criminal databases including passports, visa documents, and state rosters of driver license photos – the collection of which was exposed in the GAO’s 2016 report on the FACE program.

At that time, the GAO asked for the FBI and the Justice Department to implement six steps in order to improve privacy protections and accuracy, but, as CNN reports, the GAO says that the FBI has only fully addressed one of these recommendations in the years since.

At the time of FACE’s exposure, the GAO reported that the FBI had access to 411.9 million face images, with its current possession of 641 million photos – accurate as of this past April – suggesting that the FBI has not slowed down its FACE program.

The FBI has shown an intensifying interest in biometric technologies, having also started an iris database in 2016 as part of its broader Next Generation Identification program. Testifying at this week’s congressional hearing, an FBI representative asserted that the organization is committed to the protection of citizen’s privacy and civil liberties while stressing that facial recognition technology has the potential to “greatly enhance law enforcement capabilities and protect public safety.”

Sources: CNN Politics, NBC News

June 5, 2019 – by Alex Perala