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
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.
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.