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Entries in FBI (5)


FBI Facial Recognition Catches Fugitive on the Run for 14 Years

For many people, the idea of the FBI’s extensive facial recognition database is a bit creepy. But rest assured that facial recognition in the hands of the government can certainly serve a purpose.

Case in point: Neil Stammer, a former Albuquerque resident wanted by the FBI on a charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, has been captured after 14 years on the run, thanks to a government facial recognition database. According to the FBI, Stammer had traveled extensively overseas and speaks a dozen languages. He had eluded capture for years by moving continuously. Ultimately, he was captured in Nepal just a few weeks ago and returned to New Mexico to face child sex abuse and kidnapping charges.

How did the arrest finally happen? An FBI agent was recently working his way through a stack of unsolved cases, when he came across Stammer’s file. On a whim, he had the FBI’s Office of Public affairs post a new “wanted” poster for Stammer on the agency’s website. He hoped that, even after all these years, it might lead to something.

Meanwhile, the Diplomatic Security Service, part of the U.S. Department of State, was testing new facial recognition software that will be used to detect passport fraud. An agent decided to try the software on FBI wanted posters, and was surprised when Stammer’s face matched a person whose passport photo had a different name entirely. The agent suspected passport fraud, and once he involved the FBI, realized Stammer’s crimes went much deeper than that.

Following Stammer's arrest, we can only hope that the various government agencies can collaborate in the future (intentionally, of course). With the wealth of knowledge availablel to the FBI and other agencies, facial recognition software promises to be a powerful detection and prosecution tool for governments around the world.


The FBI's Facial Recognition System Will Collect Data on Everyone -- Even Non-Criminals

Image credit: Electronic Frontier Foundation

Privacy fans, get ready to feel your blood pressure rise.

The FBI is planning to roll out an extensive new facial recognition system that includes a database of photos to identify Americans, regardless of criminal historyaccording to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The system, called Next Generation Identification, or NGI, could soon include facial rec information on as many as 100 million Americans. The FBI already maintains a database of about 100 million people’s fingerprints, as well as many retina scans and palm prints, and personal information like name, address, age and race.

According to Business Insider, the database will grow quickly. By 2015, the system will be able to query up to 52 million photos: 46 million criminal images, such as mugshots; 4.3 million "civil images" from other sources; and 215,000 photos from the Repository for Individuals of Special Concern.

NGI is already being used in several states, and many more will soon join in. According to privacy advocates like the EFF, the FBI is clearly overreaching the bounds of privacy.

According to the EFF:

[T]he FBI only ensures that “the candidate will be returned in the top 50 candidates” 85 percent of the time “when the true candidate exists in the gallery.”

It is unclear what happens when the “true candidate” does not exist in the gallery—does NGI still return possible matches? Could those people then be subject to criminal investigation for no other reason than that a computer thought their face was mathematically similar to a suspect’s? This doesn’t seem to matter much to the FBI—the Bureau notes that because “this is an investigative search and caveats will be prevalent on the return detailing that the [non-FBI] agency is responsible for determining the identity of the subject, there should be NO legal issues.”

We're interested to learn how the facial rec portion of NGI will work in reality. In the meantime, how do you feel about the FBI collecting and querying your facial recognition data? In today's age of dwindling privacy, does news like this still get under your skin?


FBI Will Launch Nationwide Facial Recognition System

The FBI will begin using a nationwide facial recognition service in January to help officials identify suspects in photographs. Eventually, the agency will be able to use other biometrics, such as their iris and voice, to identify known criminals, according to NextGov.

The Next-Generation Identification software will help law enforcement officials narrow their search results from the bureau’s stash of 10 million mugshots down to only a few likely matches. Although NGI doesn’t provide a direct match, the system can provide as few as two possible matches, ranked in order of similarity to the original photo—which does away with the whole “needle in a haystack” frustration and time sink.

As it is, an FBI agent would have to know a suspect’s name in order to pull up his or her mugshot. Come January, commit a crime, get captured on camera and NGI will be able to (pretty much) match you to your previous mugshot—within 15 minutes.

The new facial rec software will start out in Michigan, Washington, Florida and North Carolina in 2012, but it will be rolled out nationwide in 2014.

Not surprisingly, such a powerful tool is raising privacy concerns all over the country. Many objections have to do with the fact that the Department of Homeland security and local authorities will be involved. Local authorities can already file mugshots with the FBI as part of the booking process. And DHS swaps digital mugshots with the FBI as part of its efforts to extradite criminal aliens.

As Sunita Patel, a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, told NextGov: "Any database of personal identity information is bound to have mistakes. And with the most personal immutable traits like our facial features and fingerprints, the public can't afford a mistake."

Patel also said she’s worried about local police getting involved in information sharing for federal immigration enforcement purposes. "The federal government is using local cops to create a massive surveillance system," she said.


FBI App Helps Find Missing Kids

You're shopping at the mall with your children when one of them suddenly disappears. A quick search of the nearby area is unsuccessful. What do you do?
Now there's a new tool from the FBI that can help. Our just launched Child ID app—the first mobile application created by the FBI—provides a convenient place to electronically store photos and vital information about your children so that it’s literally right at hand if you need it. You can show the pictures and provide physical identifiers such as height and weight to security or police officers on the spot. Using a special tab on the app, you can also quickly and easily e-mail the information to authorities with a few clicks. There is no charge for the app.
The app also includes tips on keeping children safe as well as specific guidance on what to do in those first few crucial hours after a child goes missing.
child id app in hand 300 

The FBI has launched a free iPhone app that stores photos and vital information about your child, such as height and weight, that can be accessed immediately in case your child gets lost or goes missing. There's also a function to e-mail the information to authorities.

The app includes tips on keeping children safe and what to do in those first few crucial hours after a child goes missing.

Currently, the Child ID app is only available on iPhones.


Feds Shut Down Cyber Criminals' Website

The domain name has been seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office, for suspicion of operating the website with the intent to provide fraud services to bank and identity thieves.

Thieves would provide stolen personal information, such as account numbers, social security numbers, addresses and passwords to the site, and the site provided English- and German-speaking posers to verbally authorize various transactions, such as wire transfers, unblocking accounts or changing the contact information on an account. now displays the FBI and Justice Department seals on the  homepage. The authorities also shut down, which hosted the site.