The FBI Is Operating a Mammoth Facial-Recognition Database Without Any Real Oversight

In a report published last month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) admonished the FBI over its management of two interrelated facial-recognition programs: the Next Generation Identification (NGI) system and the Facial Analysis, Comparison and Evaluation (FACE) services unit.

Prior to the report’s publication, little was known about FACE, which is a much larger version of the NGI. According to the GAO, it has more than 411 million photos in its database, and includes images from the NGI, the State Department, the Defense Department and 16 states that operate their own facial-recognition systems.

The GAO probe was prompted by Sen. Al Franken (D–Minnesota), who requested an assessment of whether the FBI has complied with oversight laws and adequately evaluated the precision of these systems. The GAO’s response was negative on both counts, finding that the FBI hasn’t followed proper disclosure protocol or tested these programs to determine whether their search functions are accurate.

On top of that the FBI has requested exemptions from many of its reporting requirements for these programs. A number of advocacy groups have pushed back, expressing concerns about what such exemptions would mean for Americans’ privacy rights.

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