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WITH LITTLE FANFARE, FBI RAMPS UP BIOMETRICS PROGRAMS

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If the plan goes through, it will be the first time the FBI will be able to collect fingerprints and face images out in the field and search them against its Next Generation Identification (NGI) database. According to the RFQ, FBI’s current mobile collection tools are “not optimized for mobile operations” because they are large and are limited in scope to determining if a person has “possible terrorist links (in the U.S. or abroad) or is likely to pose a threat to the U.S.”

This plan appears to be a broad expansion of the FBI’s “RISC” program. RISC provides mobile fingerprinting tools to determine whether someone is an “Individual of Special Concern” by allowing access in the field to a database of “wanted persons, known or appropriately suspected terrorists, sex offenders, and persons of special interest.” The FBI says RISC is intended for “time-critical situations” and to identify a limited subset of people within its criminal fingerprint database. But now it appears FBI intends to use its mobile biometrics collection tools much more broadly.

The biggest concern with this new mobile program is that it appears it will allow (and in fact, encourage) agents to collect face recognition images out in the field and use these images to populate NGI—something the FBI stated in Congressional testimony it would not do.

Specifically, in 2012, Deputy Assistant Director Jerome Pender stated:

Only criminal mug shot photos are used to populate the national repository. Query photos and photos obtained from social networking sites, surveillance cameras, and similar sources are not used to populate the national repository.

But the new RFQ contradicts this because it appears the desired software would allow officers to submit non-mug shot photos to NGI. The RFQ says the FBI is looking for a mobile biometrics tool that would, “at a minimum . . . include fingerprints and facial photographs for submission and receipt of a response.” Photographs taken in the field are clearly not “mug shot photos” because they’re taken before booking and possibly even before arrest. And it’s hard to see how a mobile tool that allows officers to collect these non-mug shot photos and “submit” them to a database is not also “populating the national repository.”

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