EFF Sues FBI Over Facial-recognition Records

The civil liberties group wants details on the FBI's efforts to build a new biometric database

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed a lawsuit to force the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to turn over records about a facial-recognition database it is building.

The EFF, in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, asked the judge to require the FBI to respond to the civil liberties group's Freedom of Information Act requests about the agency's Next Generation Identification (NGI) biometrics database, scheduled to launch in 2014.

The new database is described as "bigger, faster and better" than the agency's current Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, the EFF said in court documents. The new database will create a unique "face print" for each person included, the EFF said.

"Governmental use of face recognition -- and the potential for misuse -- raises many privacy concerns," EFF's lawyers wrote in court documents. Facial recognition allows identification of people in public and can be used to track people in public settings and on social networking sites, the EFF's lawyers wrote.

EFF also raised concerns about the accuracy of facial recognition, saying it depends on the quality of photographs.

"NGI will result in a massive expansion of government data collection for both criminal and noncriminal purposes," EFF staff attorney Jennifer Lynch said in a statement. "Biometrics programs present critical threats to civil liberties and privacy. Face-recognition technology is among the most alarming new developments, because Americans cannot easily take precautions against the covert, remote, and mass capture of their images."

The EFF's FOIA requests, filed in June and July of 2012, seek information about agreements and discussions between the FBI and state agencies regarding the face-recognition program, as well as records addressing the reliability of facial-recognition technology. The EFF also wants to see documentation about the FBI's plan to merge civilian and criminal records in a single repository.

The group also wants the FBI to disclose the number of facial-recognition records currently in its database.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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