FBI Plans to Have 52 Million Photos in Facial Recognition Database by 2015

I have highlighted the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and it great work on this website on many occasions. The organization has been at the forefront of many privacy and civil liberties related issues, including the increasing use of drones by the U.S. government domestically, unconstitutional NSA spying, as well as a host of other issues.

The latest article from them that caught my attention was published a couple of days ago, and shines light on the disturbing push by the FBI to create an extensive facial recognition database, which will include criminal and non-criminal photos alike. The information received by the EFF via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, demonstrates that the feds may have a mugshot database with up to 52 million photos by 2015.

The program is called Next Generation Identification (NGI), and the aspect of it that bothers the EFF most is the fact that non-criminal and criminal photos will be combined in the same database. So someone who has no criminal record can suddenly be flagged as a suspect just because an algorithm says so. What’s worst, research shows that the potential for false positive identification increases as the dataset increases.

To see if your state is participating, take a look at this map courtesy of the EFF.

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More from the EFF:

New documents released by the FBI show that the Bureau is well on its way toward its goal of a fully operational face recognition database by this summer.

EFF received these records in response to our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for information on Next Generation Identification (NGI)—the FBI’s massive biometric database that may hold records on as much as one third of the U.S. population. The facial recognition component of this database poses real threats to privacy for all Americans.

NGI builds on the FBI’s legacy fingerprint database—which already contains well over 100 million individual records—and has been designed to include multiple forms of biometric data, including palm prints and iris scans in addition to fingerprints and face recognition data. NGI combines all these forms of data in each individual’s file, linking them to personal and biographic data like name, home address, ID number, immigration status, age, race, etc. This immense database is shared with other federal agencies and with the approximately 18,000 tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States.

The records we received show that the face recognition component of NGI may include as many as 52 million face images by 2015.
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NSA Chief is Pushing for Legislation to Stifle the First Amendment

Recently, what came out with the justices in the United Kingdom … they looked at what happened on Miranda and other things, and they said it’s interesting: journalists have no standing when it comes to national security issues. They don’t know how to weigh the fact of what they’re giving out and saying, is it in the nation’s interest to divulge this.

- General Keith Alexander, Director of the NSA

Although General Alexander states the above with regard to the UK justice system, he clearly agrees with the assessment. Read the passage above again and think about how scary that statement is. It becomes clear that one of the reasons abuses at the NSA are so egregious is because of the attitude of the person in charge. Alexander genuinely thinks that intelligence officials know best, and should not be subject to any sort of accountability. You don’t need to be a card-carrying member of the ACLU to see how dangerous this perspective is. To endorse this notion that “journalists have no standing when it comes to national security issues,” is to effectively make illegal one of the most important free speech rights in any democracy. This sort of attitude represents the antithesis of American values.

Not only does General Alexander see things this way, apparently he is lobbying for Congressional legislation that would solidify this authoritarian view within the law itself. For example, the Guardian reported yesterday that:

General Keith Alexander, who has furiously denounced the Snowden revelations, said at a Tuesday cybersecurity panel that unspecified “headway” on what he termed “media leaks” was forthcoming in the next several weeks, possibly to include “media leaks legislation.”

The general, who is due to retire in the next several weeks, said that the furore over Snowden’s surveillance revelations – which he referred to only as “media leaks” – was complicating his ability to get congressional support for a bill that would permit the NSA and the military Cyber Command he also helms to secretly communicate with private entities like banks about online data intrusions and attacks. 

So apparently he has several pieces of authoritarian legislation on his plate at the moment. He laments Snowden is making the implementation of his fascist tendencies more difficult. Just another reason to celebrate Snowden.

“We’ve got to handle media leaks first,” Alexander said.

“I think we are going to make headway over the next few weeks on media leaks. I am an optimist. I think if we make the right steps on the media leaks legislation, then cyber legislation will be a lot easier,” Alexander said.

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Department of Homeland Security Moves to Install National License Plate Tracking System

*I have just been informed of some really great news. The DHS has canceled the plan due to outrage. This is what we can achieve if we are informed and keep the pressure on. I expect them to be back at it in the future, so stay vigilant. Article on the cancelation can be found here. I have left my original post intact below.

Earlier today, I highlighted a program planned by the FCC named the Critical Information Needs study, which will embed “government researchers” into media organizations in order to make sure they are doing their job properly. This insane anti-free press measure is extraordinarily disturbing and now we find out that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has plans to outsource the creation of a gigantic, comprehensive nationwide license plate database to a private corporation.

The status quo is now overtly doubling down on surveillance in the wake of the Snowden revelations rather than reigning them in. Game is on folks. Things are getting very serious.

From the Washington Post:

The Department of Homeland Security wants a private company to provide a national license-plate tracking system that would give the agency access to vast amounts of information from commercial and law enforcement tag readers, according to a government proposal that does not specify what privacy safeguards would be put in place.

The national license-plate recognition database, which would draw data from readers that scan the tags of every vehicle crossing their paths, would help catch fugitive illegal immigrants, according to a DHS solicitation. But the database could easily contain more than 1 billion records and could be shared with other law enforcement agencies, raising concerns that the movements of ordinary citizens who are under no criminal suspicion could be scrutinized.

It’s for the children! How can you object to saving the children!

“It is important to note that this database would be run by a commercial enterprise, and the data would be collected and stored by the commercial enterprise, not the government,” she said.

Yeah, because that makes me feel so much better…

But civil liberties groups are not assuaged. “Ultimately, you’re creating a national database of location information,” said Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “When all that data is compiled and aggregated, you can track somebody as they’re going through their life.”

The agency said the length of time the data is retained would be up to the winning vendor.Vigilant Solutions, for instance, one of the leading providers of tag-reader data, keeps its records indefinitely.

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The Day We Fight Back – Big Internet Protest Against the NSA is Planned for Tomorrow

Tomorrow, a large coalition of privacy and civil liberties concerned organizations and companies will launch a grassroots campaign to stop illegal NSA spying called “The Day We Fight Back.” The organizers of this event are a diverse bunch, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Demand Progress, Mozilla, Campaign for Liberty, the ACLU and many, many more.

The protest is encouraging websites to put up a banner that will highlight ways to call and email your Congressional representatives in order to push them to support the USA Freedom Act, the only NSA focused legislation currently moving through Congress that actually has teeth to it in order to defend the 4th Amendment.

Liberty Blitzkrieg will be participating in this protest.

The organization describes its action as follows:

DEAR USERS OF THE INTERNET,

In January 2012 we defeated the SOPA and PIPA censorship legislation with the largest Internet protest in history. Today we face another critical threat, one that again undermines the Internet and the notion that any of us live in a genuinely free society: mass surveillance.

In celebration of the win against SOPA and PIPA two years ago, and in memory of one of its leaders, Aaron Swartz, we are planning a day of protest against mass surveillance, to take place this February 11th.

Together we will push back against powers that seek to observe, collect, and analyze our every digital action. Together, we will make it clear that such behavior is not compatible with democratic governance. Together, if we persist, we will win this fight.

WHAT WE’LL DO ON FEBRUARY 11th:

If you’re in the US: Thousands of websites will host banners urging people to call/email Congress. We’ll ask legislators to oppose the FISA Improvements Act, support the USA Freedom Act, and enact protections for non-Americans.

If you’re not in the US: Visitors will be asked to urge appropriate targets to institute privacy protections.

The Hill covered the protest. Here are some excerpts:

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Retail Big Brother – Mannequins Are Now Using Facial Recognition Technology

Back in August, we learned about how certain trash cans in London are using ORB technology that allows them to spy on people’s habits through their smartphones. It appears that the spying trends just continue to get worse, and in most cases the users of the technology recognize that the people being spied on might not appreciate the intrusion so they are trying to keep it all very quiet.

The latest infringement upon personal privacy, unsurprisingly, comes courtesy of retail outlets. More from CBS:

As CBS 2′s Don Champion reported, a growing number of stores are using discrete and sophisticated technology — including mannequins with facial-recognition cameras hidden in their eyes — to track shopper demographics in an effort to boost sales. Retailers say the marketing data technology allows them to cater their business to customers better, but it’s also raising privacy concerns.

Alfonso Perez built a system called Shopperception that Walmart has utilized. It uses motion-sensored cameras to track a shopper’s product choice on a shelf and the time it takes to make a decision. Perez’s business has doubled in the past year.

Joel Reidenberg, a professor of technology at Princeton University, said retailers have tried to keep the technology use quiet.

Now here’s the key point.

“If the retailer is unwilling to be transparent with what they’re doing, the way they’re collecting information, how they’re using that information, it says they know their customers will be upset by it,” Reidenberg said.

“We have to decide, do we draw the line?” he said.

Americans haven’t been very good at drawing the line at much. Partly because we are such an ignorant culture. For example, did you know that Facebook stores the stuff you type as you type it, but then decide to delete and never actually post?

It might be time to start drawing the line before it’s too late.

In Liberty,
Mike

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Video of the Day: “The NSA is Coming to Town”

Just in time for the holidays, this excellent video spoof of the NSA has emerged. At the end of the day, humor is always one of the most effective tools of resistance. Remember the wise and timeless words of John Lennon:

When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you – pull your beard, flick your face – to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.

Enjoy.

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The FBI Has Been Using Drones Domestically Since 2006

So about that whole drone debate in the USA…

It seems the feds decided to simply skip over such a quaint notion and deploy them without telling anyone. Back in December of last year, I highlighted a press release from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) about current drone flights in the U.S. They disclosed that:

Today EFF posted several thousand pages of new drone license records and a new map that tracks the location of drone flights across the United States.

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These records, received as a result of EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), come from state and local law enforcement agencies, universities and—for the first time—three branches of the U.S. military: the Air Force, Marine Corps, and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

That story was big news to me at the time, and it was particularly disturbing in light of the fact that Congress has cleared the way for the Federal Aviation Administration to allow 30,000 drones in the nation’s skies by 2020. Well it appears that the whole drone debate was over before it even began, with the FBI having used drones domestically for at least seven years. From the LA Times:

WASHINGTON – Operating with almost no public notice, the FBI has spent more than $3 million to operate a fleet of small drone aircraft in domestic investigations, according to a report released Thursday by a federal watchdog agency.

The unmanned surveillance planes have helped FBI agents storm barricaded buildings, track criminal suspects and examine crime scenes since 2006, longer than previously known, according to the 35-page inspector general’s audit of drones used by the Justice Department.

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Taiwanese Fight Back Against Internet Censorship and Win!

Great update here from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), of the outcome from government attempts to censor the internet in Taiwan in a similar manner to what was proposed in the U.S. with SOPA/PIPA. Just goes to show that we can stop these authoritarians if we stand up for ourselves.  From the EFF:  

Taiwan’s intellectual property office proposed a new Internet blacklist law that would have targeted websites for their alleged use in copyright infringement. The initiative would have forced Internet Service Providers to block a list of domains or IP addresses connected to websites and services found to enable “illegal” file sharing. In the face of massive online opposition and a planned Internet blackout, the IP office has now backed down and abandoned support for the law.

Taiwanese users were going to stage an Internet black out on Tuesday June 4th. Several websites, including Wikipedia Taiwan and Mozilla Taiwan pledged to go dark in order to raise awareness. At the time this was written, more than 45,000 people had shown their commitment to protest the bill.

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Google Finally Sheds Some Light on National Security Letters (NSLs)

For those that aren’t aware, National Security Letters (NSLs) are these shady Orwellian instruments used by the FBI to spy on citizens without a warrant.  The really creepy part about them is that you aren’t permitted to know if there is one out on you.  It’s all one giant secret, you know, to get those terrorists.  Well, Google has finally come out and given us some color on NSLs.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) gives us the scoop: 

Of all the dangerous government surveillance powers that were expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act, the National Security Letter (NSL) power provided by five statutory provisions is one of the most frightening and invasive. These letters–the type served on communications service providers such as phone companies and ISPs and are authorized by 18 U.S.C. 2709–allow the FBI to secretly demand data about ordinary American citizens’ private communications and Internet activity without any prior judicial review. To make matters worse, recipients of NSLs are subject to gag orders that forbid them from ever revealing the letters’ existence to anyone.

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Stop CISPA: The Internet Spying Bill is Back in Congress

If at first you don’t succeed in implementing total state surveillance on your citizenry, try and try again.  These guys are just unbelievable.  From the EFF:

It’s official: The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act was reintroduced in the House of Representatives yesterday. CISPA is the contentious bill civil liberties advocates fought last year, which would provide a poorly-defined “cybersecurity” exception to existing privacy law. CISPA offers broad immunities to companies who choose to share data with government agencies (including the private communications of users) in the name of cybersecurity. It also creates avenues for companies to share data with any federal agencies, including military intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA).

As others have noted, “CISPA is deeply flawed. Under a broad cybersecurity umbrella, it permits companies to share user communications directly with the super secret NSA and permits the NSA to use that information for non-cybersecurity reasons. This risks turning the cybersecurity program into a back door intelligence surveillance program run by a military entity with little transparency or public accountability.”

The EFF sums up its most pressing concerns in the following bullet points:

1) Companies have new rights to monitor user actions and share data—including potentially sensitive user data—with the government without a warrant.

2) CISPA overrides existing privacy law, and grants broad immunities to participating companies.

3) CISPA also raises major transparency and accountability issues.

4) Users probably won’t know if their private data is compromised under CISPA, and will have little recourse.

In honor of Aaron Swartz, let’s please stop CISPA.

For more detail on the above concerns click here.

In Liberty,
Mike

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