US govt agencies scanning millions of Americans’ faces without their consent: Report

Since 2011, FBI has reportedly logged over 390,000 facial-recognition searches of federal and local databases.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are reportedly using photos from state driver's licenses to create a surveillance infrastructure.

The Washington Post found a cache of records, shared by Georgetown Law researchers, which reveal that the agencies are creating a "facial recognition gold-mine" using millions of Americans’ photos without their knowledge or consent.

"Since 2011, the FBI has logged more than 390,000 facial-recognition searches of federal and local databases, including state DMV databases," the publication quotes a Government Accountability Office report.

The US Police has always had access to fingerprints, DNA and other “biometric data” of criminals and suspects. However, what's interesting here is that the Department of Motor Vehicles has been pooling photos of a vast majority of a state’s residents, most of whom have never been charged with a crime.

A man walks past a poster simulating facial recognition software at the Security China 2018 exhibition on public safety and security in Beijing.

A man walks past a poster simulating facial recognition software at the Security China 2018 exhibition on public safety and security in Beijing.

Reportedly, neither Congress nor state legislatures have authorised the development of such a system, none of the individuals whose data is being screened have ever signed a waiver agreeing to share their information, and no elected official has ever voted for this to happen.

Apparently, despite the ongoing debate, the FBI uses facial recognition as a routine investigative tool. The records reveal that the agency has been regularly using facial recognition data to track down suspects in low-level crimes. "And searches are often executed with nothing more formal than an email from a federal agent to a local contact," the publication reveals.

Deputy assistant director of FBI, Kimberly Del Greco, says that facial-recognition technology was critical “to preserve our nation’s freedoms, ensure our liberties are protected and preserve our security.”

User data with the government being misused...Does that sound familiar?

Aadhaar Database is one of the largest government databases on the planet, where a 12 digit unique-identity number has been assigned to the majority of the Indian citizens. This database contains both the demographic as well as biometric data of the citizens.

Despite various instances of its database being compromised, the government of India had made it mandatory in almost all the facets of public life. It was only when the Supreme Court ruled in September 2018, that Aadhaar should only be one of the many options of identification, that many of the institutions which were demanding Aadhaar compulsorily took a step back.

While Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) continues to maintain that the server and the data itself, especially biometric data is safe, the number of security incidents has increased in past few years including a flaw in the app that could potentially allow attackers to access the Aadhaar database while accessing the demographic data, multiple instances of Aadhaar data leaking online through government websites, and a 2018 case of buying access to Aadhaar data against a sum of Rs 500 via WhatsApp, among many others.

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