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.