Since 2011 the FBI has used facial recognition software to identify people during criminal investigations. The agency combs through a database of over 411 million photos, including everything from mugshots to driver’s licenses. Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that’s critical of the technology.
The GAO is concerned about not only the privacy implications, but also the accuracy of the FBI’s facial recognition technology. The report found that the FBI has never tested the accuracy of searches that are asked to yield fewer than 50 photo matches.
Put more simply, if someone from the FBI has a photo of a suspect and runs it through facial recognition while requesting just 2 potential matches, they have no way of knowing if those matches are any more accurate than the next 48 in line. Put even more simply, a lot of innocent people could potentially be identified positively as suspects.
The FBI’s primary system is called the Next Generation Identification-Interstate Photo System (NGI-IPS). The agency and its local partners can submit photos taken from practically anywhere (including surveillance cameras), and they will get back a list of potential matches from roughly 30 million photos. They can also submit to a program called FACE, where over 400 million additional photos reside. But there’s a concern that the system isn’t nearly as precise as it should be, even with millions of photos at its disposal.