back to article The Feds are building an America-wide face surveillance system – and we're going to court to prove it, says ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Department of Justice (DoJ) in an effort to find out what the US federal government’s systems and policies are around facial recognition. Following a freedom-of-information request in January that Uncle Sam still has not …

  1. alain williams Silver badge

    The USA can't let China take the lead

    so it has to build a surveillance system no worse than the one that China is building.

    Of course 'worse' means different things to different people.

    1. Reginald Onway

      Re: The USA can't let China take the lead

      Clearly, FBI is following the lead of the PRC and we can be assured it will be used, abused, spindled, folded and mutilated as all other police data bases.

      Essentially, every adult in the USA is being forced to submit to booking and monitoring like a common criminal. It's not right, but it is what it is.

      I want my face back!

      1. BillG
        Black Helicopters

        Re: The USA can't let China take the lead

        Specifically, the civil-rights warriors have filed suit in Massachusetts against the Feds

        Back when then-President Obama was to visit Boston Massachusetts, months before his arrival Boston installed hundreds of cameras peering at every street in the city - for security reasons because of the Prez's visit.

        These cameras helped find the Boston Marathon bomber (most of the footage was unreleased). Now the Gov't of Boston is happy to track everyone on the streets 24-hours a day. It's not clear how the cameras are used, or if facial recognition is involved.

    2. sum_of_squares
      Coat

      Re: The USA can't let China take the lead

      >Of course 'worse' means different things to different people.

      The good old whataboutisms - long time no see!

      Of course you have a valid point here. In 'murrica there are a lot of methodists in work camps, getting tortured for their faith, similar to what is happen to the falung gong people. Also it's a bloody shame what they did to the NY times author who dared disagreeing with the great leader. And Chinas attack against Uighur women is nothing compared to what happens in china town..

      Yes, this was irony.

      1. Grooke

        Re: The USA can't let China take the lead

        Ummmm... I think OP just meant the government doesn't want it to be "worse" than the Chinese performance-wise, but we don't want it to be "worse" privacy-wise.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "the FBI has a larger database of over 640 million faces"

    640 million ? That's almost as much as the entire North and South American continents !

    Are there that many terrorists on US soil ? Why are they not apprehended more quickly ? I mean, if 1 in every 2 people are terrorists, either you need to drastically expand your prison infrastructure, or your political base.

    Honestly, am I supposed to believe that there are over 200 million terrorists on this planet ? Where does the FBI get that data from ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "the FBI has a larger database of over 640 million faces"

      The article says that the 640 million faces data base comes from state driver license data bases, but that's still nearly twice as many faces as people who live in the US. Perhaps it also includes driver license photos from each time someone gets a new license. But still, that seems like a lot of faces.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: "the FBI has a larger database of over 640 million faces"

        I'm certain that's what it is. People need pictures for driving licenses, passports, and various other things, and all that data can get put in the same database. It would make sense, leaving all decisions on morality aside, to use as many pictures of each person as they can get to have more chances of successfully identifying a person. They can deal with the increased risk of false positives once they've activated their data collection system on all the matches that came up. That's what it's for, after all. Don't look at the logs! I told you that's what it's for; you don't need to check! In fact, you don't need to be here. Get lost and stop poking into what we do with all the private data we have on you that you never gave us or anyone else permission to collect.

    2. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

      Re: "the FBI has a larger database of over 640 million faces"

      Where does the FBI get that data from

      From Donald Trump.

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: "the FBI has a larger database of over 640 million faces"

        Way to add to the discussion. Thanks for your invaluable contribution.

      2. phuzz Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: "the FBI has a larger database of over 640 million faces"

        Although the orange idiot is responsible for many ills, this isn't something he started and I doubt he knows anything about it (or anything else...).

        If you RTFA you'll notice that it's been in place since at least 2011, so this is solidly in the Obama years (and I wouldn't be surprised if they started to put it into place in the Bush years).

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: "the FBI has a larger database of over 640 million faces"

          (and I wouldn't be surprised if they started to put it into place in the Bush years)

          This all goes back to Admiral John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness program of 2003. The fact that it got rejected in its totality by Congress hasn't stopped the NSA and others from putting into place pretty much all of the separate elements. They only need to wait for the next large-scale terrorist atrocity and the terrified Congresscritters will fund the final piece that brings it all together.

          1. Someone Else Silver badge

            Re: "the FBI has a larger database of over 640 million faces"

            You mean, like the election of 2016?

    3. Aussie Doc
      Big Brother

      Re: "the FBI has a larger database of over 640 million faces"

      I don't think they mean 640 million DIFFERENT faces, necessarily.

      More likely they come from a variety of sources so may (I can only assume) contain many same/similar faces eg from licensing, passport or other sources.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: "the FBI has a larger database of over 640 million faces"

        "More likely they come from a variety of sources so may (I can only assume) contain many same/similar faces eg from licensing, passport or other sources."

        With that many identified images it should make for a good test of the system to do de-dupe dry run. Especially since they are likely all front on mugshots/passport/driving licence images.

    4. fajensen Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: "the FBI has a larger database of over 640 million faces"

      Why are they not apprehended more quickly ?

      Global War On Terrorism (and Everything Else) needs a steady supply of terrorists!

      The incentives for GWOT are no different than when some idiot dolt politicians decides to pay dollars for rat tails, hoping to let The Market get rid of more rats. Then Free Enterprise will kick in and lead to the breeding of more rats since now rats have a financial value (Grandad was smarter though, as a kid he would get paid for bundles of Beetroot 'tails', since exactly nobody does close inspection of bundles of bloody rat parts, kinda like 'we' do when droning a wedding).

      It's not 200 million actual terrorists, it's 200 million potential terrorists.

      We know from pre-IPO Uber, and all those other money-burning Unicorns, that Potentials will kick the butt of Actuals, Always and Forever.So, 200 million potentials is Growth - visible all the way to Alpha Centauri!

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Ah... but the government has a "get out of deep crap" free clause

    ...requesting a court forces the agencies and department to cough up "public records pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act."

    The catch in all this is they're asking for "public records". Any thing really sneaky is locked way with some security classification and no one outside the agencies will ever see it.

    Then again, after all the government crap of late, my paranoia could be off the chart.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ah... but the government has a "get out of deep crap" free clause

      Then again, after all the government crap of late, my paranoia could be off the chart. needs some additional work.

      FTFY

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Ah... but the government has a "get out of deep crap" free clause

      Then again, after all the government crap of late, my paranoia could be off the chart.

      My paranoia levels relaxed quite a bit after John Bolton had his falling-out with the Chump-in-Chief.

    3. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Ah... but the government has a "get out of deep crap" free clause

      "no one outside the agencies will ever see it."

      It is almost certain that people outside of those agencies will see it, it just (probably) will happen against those agencies wishes.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ah... but the government has a "get out of deep crap" free clause

      ... and no one outside the agencies will ever see it.

      Odds are favourable that Mr. 'Strong & Stable Genius' close family and other 'business associates' will have put it on tape somewhere!

      https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/01/jared-kushner-chris-christie-book

      https://spectator.us/seven-whistleblowers-jared-kushner-bin-salman/

  4. Colin1000

    Hypocrites

    They call out the Chinese government for doing exactly this, it is no wonder that the US is lagging behind in everything they are so busy making up lies they have no time for creative thinking.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Hypocrites

      What's the lie you speak of? The Chinese do have such a system, and it's pretty dystopian. The various branches in the U.S. haven't gotten around to writing their lies about what they have and what they'll be doing with it, and are sticking with silence for now. Assuming they have set up such a system, we're likely to see quite a bit of prevarication and/or hypocrisy, but we haven't yet found out which. There's also a chance that they've realized that the system is pointless and haven't wasted their time; they have other ways to infringe privacy rights.

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: Hypocrites

      Do they? I haven't seen that particular call out.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Hypocrites

        They have. At least some of the new companies placed on the American entity list were placed there because they create surveillance systems used in the Chinese province of Xinjiang for tracking and in many cases imprisoning people on ethnic grounds. Which is why they got suggested on the list, but they'll certainly be removed if the trade war goes the way the American administration wants because human rights won't matter in that case. Various other countries have been calling this massive human rights abuse by China out too. It's so obviously happening and so obviously really bad that nearly everyone at least says they're concerned about it.

  5. Sitaram Chamarty

    mandatory watching for everyone

    Person of Interest, especially seasons 4 and 5

  6. K Silver badge

    "including Amazon. Again, the details of those contracts are unknown"

    Folks, its fine... Amazons facial recognitions sucks, its gets it wrong 70% of the time...

    All we need to worry about, is the false positives i.e. those who are being wrongly identified, wrongly convicted and wrongly sentenced for chromes they did commit.

    But look on the bright-side, the A-Team may finally come to fruition.

    1. iron Silver badge

      Re: "including Amazon. Again, the details of those contracts are unknown"

      > wrongly sentenced for chromes they did commit

      Is it a sentence to a max security Federal prison for using Chrome?

      And, if they're wrongly sentenced for 'chromes' they did commit does that mean they got off?

      1. Androgynous Cow Herd

        Re: "including Amazon. Again, the details of those contracts are unknown"

        “Chromes” is photographer slang for transparency film...Fujichrome, Ektachrome and of course the late, great Kodachrome, which gave nice, bright colors and made the whole world a sunny day.

        So, “Chromes they didn’t commit” clearly means “Photographs that they did not sit for” and therefore the comment makes perfect sense. I’m surprised you didn’t’t get the reference.

    2. Dusty

      Re: "including Amazon. Again, the details of those contracts are unknown"

      Machine AI, for all its failings, is probably better than the Mk1 Eyeball version. I don't really know why ID parade evidence is considered so valuable. It has been known for ages that it is pretty damn unreliable.

      (Finger print evidence is a lot less reliable than it is made out to be too. It is fine for excluding suspects, but only of limited use, and with a lot of subjective interpretation involved, when it comes to identifying them)

      1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        Re: "including Amazon. Again, the details of those contracts are unknown"

        "Machine AI, for all its failings, is probably better than the Mk1 Eyeball version. I don't really know why ID parade evidence is considered so valuable. It has been known for ages that it is pretty damn unreliable."

        Because it can be used on a much larger scale, and produce a correspondingly large number of false positives as a result.

        A manual id parade with 10 random members of the public generates a level of false positives that can be handled, and since the other 9 members are picked randomly the presumption tends to be that if one does get identified it's most likely an error (though I imagine will be investigated).

        That's an entirely different proposition to doing a speculative match against the entire past and current driving population of the US. A large number of false positives are extremely likely, and if it's used to find a person rather than merely confirm a suspicion, the assumptions of innocence are not the same.

        It's not a matter of automating an existing procedure. It's a completely different test - more akin to looking through a book of known criminals to find a match than a real ID parade, with the vast majority of the faces NOT being criminals at all, which weights the test to favour false positives.

  7. Palpy

    640 million -- more than the US population --

    -- just means they're scraping Facebook for multiple images. Easy-peasy. Plus they've got all you Brits in there as well, so stop smirking. ;)

    Was there not a story just the other day on the US border patrol looking to use facial recog software? And is not FR a fact of life (Wired article) at some US airports?

    Total Proactive Enforcement™ will be served when the Agencies know your travel pattern (cell-phone tracking), your Internet searches (thanks to Google) and history, your record of purchases (Amazon et al), your face, and... you add to the list yourselves, friends. Total Proactive Enforcement™ will not only know before you break a rule, it will know if you support the Glorious Leader of the Moment and where to find you at any time. So you can be properly punished and re-educated.

    1. Donchik

      Re: 640 million -- more than the US population --

      "Glorious Leader of the Moment"

      Love it, reminds me so much of Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon...

      "Do you, Ming the Merciless, Ruler of the Universe, take this Earthling Dale Arden, to be your Empress of the Hour? The Emperor Ming: Of the hour, yes."

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: 640 million -- more than the US population --

      @Palpy

      Just curious here, but is Palpy what your friends call you? I assume that more formally you Emperor Palpatine?

      1. Palpy

        Re: screen names...

        "Palpy" has got to be one of the worst three or four screen aliases I've ever used. It's an unfortunate amalgamation based on a name -- begins with the "Pa" from "Paul" and goes crazy after that.

        You know when you first decide to post a comment to a new site, and ... oh hells, quick, have to think of a screen alias. One that does not contain any synonym for "buttocks", which is always my first impulse.

        As far as Emperor Palpatine, he would actually be a descendant of mine, many many generations in the future, right? Or is there a closed time-like curve operating, such that the Star Wars franchise is actually a million years in the past? I get so confused. And where the hell is my jetpack?

  8. GrumpyKiwi

    FIB hard at work again

    Hey kids, remember when the FIB were the defenders of democracy and justice because they investigated the Trump that one time.

    Wait, oh yeah, they never were. They only just admitted to abusing the NSA's surveillence systems, using it thousands of times a day. This means they can totally be trusted with this system to never abuse it because they learned their lessons from the last time right?

    The FIB have repeatedly shown themselves as scum. They're hated by the rest of US law enforcement as the guys who "show up after all the work has been done to claim the credit". They only existed because in 1920's it was too hard to co-ordinate between local, state and federal agencies - that time has long since past. Got to be time to think about breaking them up and shuffling their brave defenders of justice off to any agency that would take them.

  9. Zangetsu

    you can be sure that EVERY government in the world is working on their own version of this.

    our politicians talk trash about how china spies on its citizens while writing bills to do the same thing to american citizens.

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