Does The FBI’s Looming Biometric Database Bring Big Brother Closer?

 "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." 
 -4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution


The FBI is readying its $1 billion Next Generation Identification program, a surveillance system that uses photographs and biometric data to help law enforcement entities nationwide identify possible "persons of interest." 

But the bureau has openly mulled cataloging photographs of innocent people taken from surveillance cameras and social networking sites, as well as biometric information gathered for non-criminal reasons, sending privacy advocates into a fury.
NGI, as reported by the New Scientist, would use facial recognition software along with biometric tools such as voice recognition, iris scans and fingerprints to identify and track down suspected criminals. The database will be shared with law enforcement entities at state and federal levels across the country.
Privacy advocates fear the FBI will indiscriminately mash together biometric and photographic records into a searchable database, not taking the time to separate the wholly innocent from former convicts, the arrested-and-acquitted, and persons of interest.
The controversy lies in the grey area surrounding information outside the bounds of arrest records or mug shots such as pictures from social networks, fingerprints from background checks for job applications, or even photographs taken of folks just walking down the street. All materials accumulated outside the bounds of regular police work could be bundled into a growing and pervasive information-collection operation on random civilians who are not suspected of committing any crimes, leaving the codified and catalogued personal information of millions open to a security breach.
The FBI has not publicly responded to the recent outcry. Its website does contain a boastful post laying out the potential benefits of NGI while also claiming to address privacy concerns. 
"It doesn't threaten individual privacy. As required with any federal system, the FBI is doing Privacy Impact Assessments on what information will be collected, how it will be shared, how it will be accessed, and how the data will be securely stored ... all in an effort to protect privacy," the site states.
The FBI's Jerome Pender asserted in testimony before Congress in July 2011 that the database will include only mug shots from previous arrests provided by local, state and federal law enforcement around the country, and all matched photos will be considered only leads and not positive identifications leading to an arrest.
But NGI's privacy statement does not exclude civilian information from sources outside of law enforcement, attorney Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told the New Scientist. The digital rights advocacy group has been among NGI's loudest and largest decriers.
The FBI has stated in the past it will keep civilian information and criminal records nominally separated. Yet the information will be searchable simultaneously, essentially merging into one large database, according to EFF.
"Once you start plugging this into the FBI database, it becomes tantamount to a national photographic database," the American Civil Liberties Union's Jay Stanley told the New Scientist.
Why would the agency go through all the trouble of gathering millions of photos, scanning them, indexing them and storing them for later use?
The ability to identify a suspect at lightning speed has been every lawman's dream, a pursuit that began when Allan Pinkerton accidentally birthed the mug shot with his 19th century Wild West "Wanted" posters. And with facial recognition software used by NGI achieving a 92 percent accuracy level in some cases, a larger gathering of photographs creates a greater chance of a successful match.
A 2010 presentation by the FBI's Richard Vorder Bruegge showed a law enforcement agency looking to catalogue and use any photos it can get its hands on, regardless of their origin, including "public datasets." 
NGI's face-scanning technology would essentially match photos of a person of interest against a database the FBI estimates will grow to at least 12 million pictures. The facial recognition aspect works two ways: Agents can use face-matching software to pair surveillance camera stills taken from a crime scene against a growing database of mug shots. It can also scan against photos from other surveillance cameras and online in search of a suspect.

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