13 Sep 2012

Next-Gen FBI Biometric Identification System Raises Privacy Concerns

The FBI has been working on a state-of-the-art biometric identification system that could fight crime. The Next Generation Identification (NGI) system will include voice recognition, iris and retina scan data, facial recognition and DNA analysis, and will be deployed in 2014 in Michigan, Hawaii, Maryland and Oregon.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), though, says statistics have shown no significant drop in crime rates in countries like the UK where such systems are already in effect. The ACLU also suggests racial profiling and privacy intrusion could be an issue.

"Camera surveillance systems also inevitably raise issues of racial profiling and voyeurism," it said. "Everyone has heard of the camera operators who zoom in upon women's breasts or police officers who use infrared video surveillance systems to watch a couple engaged in romantic activity."

The Electronic Freedom Foundation expressed concerns about the FBI’s intention to identify faces in the crowd and compare them with social media photos. Randy Sabett, an attorney at ZwillGen, agrees privacy could be an issue but reasonable oversight could reduce abuse.

Storing data was also debated, as a security breach could place users even more at risk because individual biometrics cannot be changed like personal passwords. Concluding that storing such huge amounts of data is not feasible, Sabett believes law enforcement needs the system if they want to stay ahead of crimes.

"We need systems that allow law enforcement to more easily connect the dots that the attackers are doing a better job at obscuring," he said. "If this means each of us need to sacrifice a small amount of our privacy and it's done in a balanced way, then I think it's worth it."