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.