The federal government is embarking on a multiyear, $1 billion dollar overhaul of the FBI's existing fingerprint database to more quickly and accurately identify suspects, partly through applying other biometric markers, such as iris scans and voice recordings.
Often law enforcement authorities will "have a photo of a person and for whatever reason they just don't know who it is [but they know] this is clearly the missing link to our case," said Nick Megna, a unit chief at the FBI's criminal justice information services division. The new facial recognition service can help provide that missing link by retrieving a list of mug shots ranked in order of similarity to the features of the subject in the photo.
Today, an agent would have to already know the name of an individual to pull up the suspect's mug shot from among the 10 million shots stored in the bureau's existing Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. Using the new Next-Generation Identification system that is under development, law enforcement analysts will be able to upload a photo of an unknown person; choose a desired number of results from two to 50 mug shots; and, within 15 minutes, receive identified mugs to inspect for potential matches. Users typically will request 20 candidates, Megna said. The service does not provide a direct match.
Thomas E. Bush III, who helped develop NGI's system requirements when he served as assistant director of the CJIS division between 2005 and 2009, said, "The idea was to be able to plug and play with these identifiers and biometrics." Law enforcement personnel saw value in facial recognition and the technology was maturing, said the 33-year FBI veteran who now serves as a private consultant.
NGI's incremental construction seems to align with the White House's push to deploy new information technology in phases so features can be scrapped if they don't meet expectations or run over budget.
In addition, Patel said she is concerned about the involvement of local police in information sharing for federal immigration enforcement purposes. "The federal government is using local cops to create a massive surveillance system," she said.
Bush said, "We do have the capability to search against each other's systems," but added, "if you don't come to the attention of law enforcement you don't have anything to fear from these systems."