FBI Collects Facial-Recognition Images From 18 States’ Motor Vehicle Departments

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In a US Congressional hearing, the FBI came under attack from both sides of the aisle for its use of facial-recognition software, because that violates citizen privacy and can lead to arrests of innocent people. An official says that only criminal mugshots are collected, but it is known that the FBI also collects images from driver’s licenses, passports, visas, and security videos. The agency now is seeking to access all state databases that have photos, and these contain images of about half the US adult population. –GEG

How the FBI’s facial recognition program works

Facial recognition has been part of the FBI’s Next Generation Identification program for years. It’s a biometric method of identifying someone by comparing live capture or digital image data with the stored record of that person, typically used for security purposes.

This week, congress held a hearing putting the FBI program under the microscope. It came under a fierce bi-partisan attack from politicians on both sides of the aisle. They said using facial recognition software violates Americans’ privacy and leads to the arrests of innocent people.

It turns out that over 400 million pictures of Americans’ faces are stored in local, state and federal law enforcement databases. It’s estimated that half of all adults in the U.S. are in the databases.

An FBI official said at the hearing, “The only information the FBI has and has collected in our database are criminal mugshot photos.” However, that doesn’t include databases held by local and state law enforcement agencies. Those include images from driver’s licenses, mugshots, passports, security videos and visas.

The FBI has agreements with 18 U.S. states that give it access to all of these databases. The agency is working on getting access to all state databases.

Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz said, “Like many technologies, used in the wrong hands or without appropriate parameters, it is ripe for abuse. It would be one thing if facial recognition technology were perfect or near perfect, but it clearly is not. Facial recognition technology does make mistakes.”

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