A leading privacy watchdog has warned that the FBI plans to have up to a third of all Americans on a facial recognition database by next year. The Electronic Frontier Foundation notes in a communique that some 52 million Americans could be on the Next Generation Identification (NGI) biometric database by 2015, regardless of whether they have ever committed a crime or been arrested. The group managed to obtain information pertaining to the program via a freedom of information request. The database will also hold fingerprints, of which the FBI has around 100 million records, as well as retina scans and palm prints. Profiles on the system will contain other personal details such as name, address, age and race. The system will be capable of searching through millions of facial records obtained not only via mugshots, but also via so called “civil images”, the origin of which is vague at best. “[T]he FBI does not define either the ‘Special Population Cognizant’ database or the ‘new repositories’ category.” The EFF writes. “This is a problem because we do not know what rules govern these categories, where the data comes from, how the images are gathered, who has access to them, and whose privacy is impacted.”  A map within the EFF’s piece shows which states are already complying with the program, and which ones are close to agreeing deals to do so.

Map of US States Coordinating with FBI on NGI Face RecognitionThe EFF notes that currently, the FBI has access to fingerprint records of non-criminals who have submitted them for any kind of background check, by an employer or government agency. Going forward, however, all records, both criminal and non-criminal will be stored on the same database. “This means that even if you have never been arrested for a crime, if your employer requires you to submit a photo as part of your background check, your face image could be searched – and you could be implicated as a criminal suspect, just by virtue of having that image in the non-criminal file,” notes the EFF. EFF points to a disturbing assertion from the FBI that it will not “make positive identifications,” via the database, but will use it to produce “investigative leads.” The Feds claim that “Therefore, there is no false positive [identification] rate.” “[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.”” EFF states. More