FBI Ramps Up Next Generation ID Roll-Out—Will You End Up in the Database?
BY JENNIFER LYNCH
OCTOBER 19, 2011
NextGov.com is reporting that the FBI will begin rolling out its Next Generation Identification (NGI) facial recognition service as early as this January. Once NGI is fully deployed and once each of its approximately 100 million records also includes photographs, it will become trivially easy to find and track Americans.
As we detailed in an earlier post, NGI expands the FBI’s IAFIS criminal and civil fingerprint database to include multimodal biometric identifiers such as iris scans, palm prints, photos, and voice data. The Bureau is planning to introduce each of these capabilities in phases (pdf, p.4) over the next two and a half years, starting with facial recognition in four states—Michigan, Washington, Florida, and North Carolina—this winter.
Why Should We Be Worried?
Despite the FBI’s claims to the contrary, NGI will result in a massive expansion of government data collection for both criminal and noncriminal purposes. IAFIS is already the largest biometric database in the world—it includes 70 million subjects in the criminal master file and more than 31 million civil fingerprints. Even if there are duplicate entries or some overlap between civil and criminal records, the combined number of records covers close to 1/3 the population of the United States. When NGI allows photographs and other biometric identifiers to be linked to each of those records, all easily searchable through sophisticated search tools, it will have an unprecedented impact on Americans’ privacy interests.
Although IAFIS currently includes some photos, they have so far been limited specifically to mug shots linked to individual criminal records. However, according to a 2008 Privacy Impact Assessment for NGI’s Interstate Photo System, NGI will allow unlimited submission of photos and types of photos. Photos won’t be limited to frontal mug shots but may be taken from other angles and may include close-ups of scars, marks and tattoos. NGI will allow all levels of law enforcement, correctional facilities, and criminal justice agencies at the local, state, federal and even international level to submit and access photos, and will allow them to submit photos in bulk. Once the photos are in the database, they can be found easily using facial recognition and text-based searches for distinguishing characteristics.