Facial recognition databases have long been used by the police to help hunt down possible criminals, despite the potential for failed accuracy.
Papers turned over to the press just last week reveal that the FBI has been making massive strides in its facial recognition database through a wide-range of sources and by 2015 could have as many as 52 million faces to draw from. To give you some perspective, there are already 16 million faces in the database with more than 4 million of them being of a non-criminal context, such as a driver’s license photo.
The issue that many civil liberties groups are taking with this is the accuracy of the software developed by MorphoTrust. According to Singularity Hub, FBI’s criteria for accuracy specify that the object of the search will be returned in the top 50 candidates 85 percent of the time. Not a terrible accuracy, but as the size of the database increase, so does the number of false positives — meaning there’s greater risk for YOU, the law-abiding citizen to end up on the wrong side of the interrogation desk.
There’s also the issue of where the FBI will be getting all of these new images for their database from. Currently, there’s no law prohibiting the drawing of profile images from civil sources says Chris Conley of the ACLU .
Documents say the bureau will get more than 200,000 images from “new repositories” — there’s no clarification of what those repositories may be. A poorly understood information-sharing program between the FBI and local law enforcement bodies would pour another 700,000 images into the database. Photos from social media are off-limits, though there are no procedures identified for enforcing the ban.
So is all of this data pulling for a deep pool of potential suspects a good thing or likely to bring about more harm than justice? While it’s important that the FBI have a large database of faces to pull from for instances like the Boston Marathon Bombing or a string of murders in Anytown, USA, there of course lies the likely chance of mis-identification and abuse of power.
Conley believes the best steps to take are to figure out how to use it with specific guidelines first, rather than simply collecting large amounts of date from every possible source without any real set of ground rules.