Privacy SOS

FBI moves ahead with massive face recognition project, despite disastrous operational failure

As the EFF's Jennifer Lynch reports, the FBI is soon set to have 52 million face prints in its billion-dollar plus biometrics "center of excellence", called the Next Generation Identification system. And it's not just mug-shots. The FBI system will contain a slew of images of people who have never been arrested. The government's policy even allows loopholes big enough to drive a Facebook sized data-truck through.

Wow, you may be saying to yourself, now that we've entered the Minority Report future, there won't be any crime the FBI cannot solve, right?


Wrong. When put to the test when it counted the most, the FBI's face recognition program failed miserably. As Mike Spies reports for Vocativ, the billion dollar project didn't produce results for the people of Boston after the Marathon bombings, when it could have made a huge difference.

On April 17, 2013, two days after pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the marathon’s finish line, the FBI received an image of both Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarneav. But the FBI was unable to identify the two suspects, despite the fact that the agency had photographs of Tamerlan, who’d been arrested for domestic violence, in its database, and that the U.S. government had spent billions of dollars on facial-recognition software meant for just such purposes.

“We attempted to use the facial-recognition technology, but it didn’t work,” admits Bresson. “I’m not sure why.”

The FBI's expensive face recognition project failed when put to the test in an extremely important situation, and the FBI is "not sure why." Nevertheless, plenty of states are joining up with the costly effort. Check to see if your state is participating. And if so, ask your state legislators why, given that the technology doesn't seem to do any good, and that the privacy risks and risks of false identifications are so dangerous.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.