Elijah Cummings

FBI Facial Recognition Program Can Scan Photos Of Millions Of Innocent Americans

The FBI is under intense scrutiny over its facial recognition program which appears to be capable of scanning the photos of tens of millions of Americans in mere minutes. The federal agency reportedly has unrestricted access to identification photos in 18 states – including the names and faces of innocent Americans who have never once been charged with a crime.

The FBI facial recognition program has even been likened to the surveillance tactics used by “Nazi Germany,” during a congressional hearing about the technology earlier this week. During the House Committee on Oversight and Government Regulation hearing, some congressional representatives claimed the FBI program generates racial bias. The angst over the use of the technology was bi-partisan in nature.

“I have zero confidence in the FBI and the [Justice Department], frankly, to keep this in check,” Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Regulation, said. “This is really Nazi Germany here, what we’re talking about. And I see little difference in the way people are being tracked under this, just getting one wide net and getting information on all American citizens.”

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are also concerned about the FBI facial recognition software being used in conjunction with CCTV surveillance cameras to track Americans in real time, NBC News reports.

“I think we’re reaching a very sad point, a very dangerous point, when we’re doing away with the reasonable expectation of privacy about anything,” GOP Representative John Duncan said.

The FBI’s driver’s license photo access program is called Next Generation Identification and Facial Analysis, Comparison, and Evaluation, or FACE. It permits federal agents access to algorithmically match images of Americans without a warrant, the Daily Mail reports. There are more than 400 million photos of the faces of non-criminal citizens stored in local, state, and federal databases linked to the FBI facial recognition system, according to a Government Accountability Office report from last year. That figure amounts to approximately half of the entire population of the United States.

Some of the Representatives who voiced objections to the FBI facial recognition system also maintained the technology often has a higher rate of false positives when the software is used on African-Americans. Opponents to the federal agency’s program also lambasted FBI officials for allegedly choosing to ignore what they deemed to be evidence of the lack of accuracy of the face-matching software.

The reports cited as evidence maintain black Americans are more often subjected to having their photo scanned with the FBI facial recognition software – and the results are often wrong. Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings dubbed the conclusions noted in the reports to be “a h**l of a combination.”

“Rather than conducting testing that would show whether or not concerns have merit, the FBI chooses to ignore growing evidence that the technology has a disproportionate impact on African Americans,” Representative Cummings added.

Republican Representative, and chairman on the House committee, Jason Chaffetz, questioned FBI officials in an effort to determine if the agency is also storing photos of innocent Americans garnered from social media and other online venues.

Kimberly Del Greco, a spokesperson for the FBI, claimed the federal agency was not using the technology to scan images of Americans found on the internet. Representative Chaffetz staunchly refuted Del Greco’s answer.

“What scares me is the FBI and the [Justice Department] trying to proactively collect everyone’s face,” Chaffetz added.

Del Greco maintained the FBI was only collecting data from criminal mugshots and the databases the agency has been granted access to scan. Most Americans probably do not realize their respective states have given such access to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

About 16 percent of the FBI facial recognition database is reportedly comprised of photos of non-criminal Americans.

[Featured Image by Artem Oleshko/Shutterstock]

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