Cataloged data could include palm prints, iris scans, tattoos, and more

Criminals beware: the FBI’s next wave of identification technologies is fast approaching.

DailyTech first reported on the FBI’s “Next Generation Identification” system when word of it broke last December, where at the time the biggest question revolved around who would be the lucky winner of such a lucrative contract. Fast forward half a year: the $1 billion contract went to Lockheed-Martin (this occurred last February) and the FBI’s pie-in-the-sky desires have since had a brush with reality, compliments of a recent status report posted over at Popular Mechanics.

As for the project itself, Lockheed-Martin says it is still in the planning stage, and that the company is currently conducting “trade studies” to determine the algorithmic requirements of scanning hundreds of thousands of biometric images at a time.

Both Lockheed-Martin and the FBI are somewhat pensive when it comes to the actual requirements of such a system. Clearly, the NGI’s increased use of images will require storage facilities far beyond its current fingerprint system – but so far, either nobody knows or they’re keeping their lips sealed. It has said, however, that the NGI will be software-based – a relatively obvious conclusion given the nature of many past systems – so that it can be made available to police departments equipped with “compatible biometric collection gear.”

More interestingly, Lockheed-Martin plans on outsourcing much of the actual hardware duties: “Lockheed does not build [data] capture devices or matching algorithms, per se,” says NGI project manager Barbara Humpton. “NGI is about setting up a database and standards—the format for how things come into the system.” The project won’t be working from scratch, and fully plans to make use of “existing biometric technologies,” with a variety of police departments already collecting data for future use.

Privacy issues, of course, remain at the forefront: critics from the ACLU and Electronic Privacy Information Center think that the technology isn’t mature enough to start widespread deployments – particularly regarding police departments that choose to gather information now. There’s nothing to worry about, says the FBI; the scope of the project isn’t going to expand and it will continue collecting data from the same people it’s already gathering data on – criminals, chiefly, in addition to outside prints it receives from its civil services division, which provides print-matching services to the private sector for use in things like employment background checks.

“We aren't going to start collecting irises from everyone and their brother,” says FBI assistant director Thomas Bush. “We adhere to very strict privacy guidelines. We're taking more biometrics from the same people we were always authorized to take fingerprints from.”

Further, the FBI says its identity databases have “never been hacked.”

Provided everything goes to plan, the initial phases of NGI deployment are set to occur sometime in 2010. The project will likely have a ten-year lifespan, and research on a next-gen NGI will begin in 2018.

I’m not quite sure that this project sits easy with me. With the growing development of computer-based recognition technologies, it’s easy to see where this is going: face data, scar prints, and tattoo markers being fed into automated surveillance systems that are exactly like what the UK and U.S. have been jockeying for. There are a ton of arguments against this kind of intrusion – which stretch far beyond the scope of this write-up – that sit ignored by both government officials and the general public, both of which seem to be willfully sleepwalking into a arms of a surveillance state.

Remember, crime is not the only way to land into the government’s identification snare. It would be one thing if the nation’s psychopaths, murderers, and general-purpose scum were the only ones to land in such a system – but instead, the FBI openly acknowledges that it inputs data received from outside sources as well. Society’s lesser offenders – the kids thrown in jail for marijuana possession, the “Don’t tase me, Bro!” dissenter at a John Kerry rally, or Texas computer-repair technicians who work without a PI license – people for whom the definition of “offense” is often dubious, as well as job-seekers and other assorted bystanders, are the ones who get the short end of this NGI deal.

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