The National Security Agency is harvesting huge numbers of images of people from communications that it intercepts through its global surveillance operations for use in sophisticated facial recognition programs, according to top-secret documents.
The spy agency’s reliance on facial recognition technology has grown significantly over the last four years as the agency has turned to new software to exploit the flood of images included in emails, text messages, social media, videoconferences and other communications, the N.S.A. documents reveal. Agency officials believe that technological advances could revolutionize the way that the N.S.A. finds intelligence targets around the world, the documents show. The agency’s ambitions for this highly sensitive ability and the scale of its effort have not previously been disclosed.
The agency intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential,” according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show.
Interestingly, they refuse to confirm or deny whether they have access to the US passport database or harvest images from FaceSpy. If they weren't doing this, they'd just deny it, so that's probably an admission. As for what they can do with it, being able to pick someone out of a crowd so you can drop a bomb on them, or identify everyone in a crowd for subsequent arrest for protesting against the government are just two of the obvious possibilities. This technology is a fundamental threat to our civil liberties - and we must defund and destroy the agencies which want to deploy it.