Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” comes to mind as the FBI announces its plan to implement a facial recognition service with a database of over 70 million mug shots. Conspirators may fear some cryptic alliance between Facebook and the FBI, worrying that all our faces could be easily uploaded into this next-generation identification system.
Thomas E. Bush III, the FBI veteran who helped develop this system allays such concerns by explaining that “if you [haven’t] come to the attention of law enforcement you don't have anything to fear from these systems."
Nonetheless, many are convinced that this sounds like an eerie Big Brother type database prophesized by many dystopic thinkers, or a virtual version of the panopticon. Sunita Patel, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, suggests that with this new system, the federal government is going to use local cops to create “a massive surveillance system”. While more and more people trust their lives to the seeming flawlessness of leading edge technology, Patel is assured that an extensive database of personal identity information is bound to have flaws. She warns: “with the most personal immutable traits like our facial features, the public can’t afford a mistake.”
Other civil liberties advocates question if the facial recognition application would contain mug shots of people who have simply been arrested, i.e. those who are still technically innocent under the law. Jim Harper, the director of information policy at the libertarian Cato Institute, advised the FBI that they should take all non-convicts out of the system. But the FBI officials declined to reply or comment on this vital recommendation.
While the FBI ensures that their strict privacy controls are in check, the FBI officials have not disclosed the name of the search product or vendor they are using to create this database, leaving many questioning the already precarious privacy situations on Google and Facebook.
Image: "Watching Eyes" by EssG on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Liscensing