Say Cheese -- The FBI Will Be Taking Your Photo

The feds are making a family scrapbook and we'll all be in it

Who doesn’t like to pose for a picture now and again?

Sure, very few of us are models or anything like that, but it’s pretty painless to just stand still and say "cheese" for somebody.

But annoyance can set in if someone takes your picture without asking. I mean, it’s your image, right? Shouldn’t you have a say when somebody captures it?

Apparently the folks at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) don’t think so, as the agency has developed a new sophisticated database that will keep millions of photos of both criminals and non-criminals alike.

What’s strange about this new technology is that photos for the database will be comprised of pictures of you walking the street, entering a building, or joining a protest.

Meaning a picture can be taken of you and eventually stored in a law enforcement database, just in case you ever need to be tracked down in the future.

The new technology is called “Next Generation Identification” (NG), and it’s a substantial upgrade to the FBI’s current Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), with an added picture taking component, and other new advanced features.

At the moment the IAFIS holds several million fingerprint records, but as early as 2014 NGI will couple each record with a photograph, making even easier to identify someone. Currently the photos being used for the system's testing are from criminal mug shots and other pictures that are taken by of law enforcement.

Security cameras

However, NGI will eventually allow law enforcement to submit public security camera photos into the national database, whether you were ever a criminal or not. Photos taken from private security cameras will also be used for database submission, according to a 2008 Privacy Impact Assessment.

In theory, this will help law enforcement track people if necessary, while making it much easier to do so. So whether you’re involved in a crime or not, there’s a good chance your mug will be residing in a database by 2014, which would be accessible to every level of law enforcement.

NGI will also include other methods of multimodal biometrics to identify a person easier such as, documenting your specific facial characteristics, scanning your retina, and capturing your voice. We previously ran a story about a new version of public cameras that can capture your conversation in public, just in case you were wondering how on earth law enforcement could get your voice without your knowledge or consent.

The NGI system has already been used in a pilot program in a few U.S. cities, and is expected to be fully implemented in just two short years throughout the country. Privacy groups have been keeping a close eye on the program and have already expressed concern over its level of invasiveness.

For the pilot program the FBI says they’ve been testing the system with current mug shots of criminals and have to abide by a strict set of rules before accessing each photo.

Whether this same set of rules will apply when non-criminal photos are stored in the database remains to be seen.

“Pilot participants are informed that information derived from pilot search requests and resulting responses is to be used only as an investigative lead,” said Jerome Pender of the FBI to the Senate. “Results are not to be considered as positive identifications,” he said.

Fingerprints affected

The NGI technology will also affect the current fingerprint system by making photos a part of the background-checking process. For example, teachers typically have to submit a set of fingerprints to their local Board of Education before they're hired, and soon they’ll probably have to submit a photo as well.

Sure, it's not the worst thing in the world one has to do, but it is kind of creepy knowing your picture can already be in a national database next to criminals, and the photo you’re submitting for your job is merely for confirmation purposes.

The FBI also says it will use two separate databases to differentiate non-criminal and criminal information, but that hasn’t made privacy groups exhale much at all. The whole security upgrade has cost around $1 billion to complete, and theoretically it will assist in not only domestic crime solving, but international crimes as well.

Some would say if you’ve done nothing wrong, you really shouldn’t mind having your photo in a database. But shouldn’t you have say on whether your picture is taken or not?

You could almost compare it to a stranger coming up to you on the street and snapping your photo without asking. It’s kind of the same thing, and most of us don’t like that.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.
Consumer Affairs

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