The FBI is taking measures to mitigate potential backlash from citizens over its use of facial recognition technology. In a letter to the New York Times, FBI Science and Technology Branch’s executive assistant director Amy Hess clarifies how the Bureau’s Next Generation Identification system works, and why it is not the surveillance apparatus that some may think it is.
Hess’ letter comes in the wake of recent media coverage detailing the increasing use of facial recognition technology on the part of government. She specifically clarifies that driver photos from the Department of Motor Vehicles are not stored in the NGI database – heading off any misconceptions in the wake of news that the DMVs of New York and New Jersey starting to use facial recognition to crack down on fraudulent driver’s licence applications. She also asserts that the database does not store surveillance photos. Hess even goes so far as to deny that the NGI system truly identifies individuals, distinguishing between that practice and the NGI’s actual process of finding an array of potential matches to a given subject.
She concludes, “The F.B.I. is committed to the protection of individual privacy rights and civil liberties. There are many important discussions that have taken place, and will continue to take place, about government surveillance and investigative authority.”
It’s rhetoric clearly intended to assuage those who are concerned about the increasing use of biometric technology by government, particularly with respect to security applications. As legislators within government and privacy advocates without continue to raise issues relating to the use of such technologies, organizations that deploy it in more overt ways – such as the FBI – will likely need to be more communicative and transparent about their practices in order to avoid a serious public backlash.
August 19, 2015 – by Alex Perala