General Intelligence

The DHS Is Working to Access 300 Million More Facial Recognition Photos

The DHS is linking its facial recognition database to the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Department of State

Dave Gershgorn
OneZero
Published in
3 min readMay 29, 2020

--

Photo illustration. Photo source: Chip Somodevilla/picture alliance/Getty

Welcome to General Intelligence, OneZero’s weekly dive into the A.I. news and research that matters.

Historically, federal agencies like the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have had to rely on their own data to run facial recognition or automated fingerprint searches. For example, the DHS has access to photos of people who have crossed the U.S. border; the FBI has a database of mugshots.

But now federal agencies are working to greatly expand access to each others’ facial recognition databases, according to a privacy assessment released by the Department of Homeland Security earlier this month. The move would allow DHS to more easily search the enormous databases of passport or visa holders, as well as many who have been in contact with the criminal justice system.

DHS, which manages its own database of fingerprints, face images, and iris scans, is currently linking its systems to similar databases operated by the FBI, Department of Defense, and Department of State.

The DHS has biometric data on more than 250 million people, typically collected at airports and other border crossings. But it’s not the largest database of these agencies. That database belongs to the Department of State’s Consolidated Consular Database, which holds 290 million passport records, 184 million visas, and 25 million records on citizens abroad, according to a 2016 ABC News report.

Then there’s the FBI’s database, which contains 38 million photos associated with fingerprints, according to the DHS report, and at least 7.4 million identities in the DoD’s database, as OneZero reported last year.

Removing barriers between facial recognition databases makes it easier for agencies to run even more searches. Currently, if DHS wants to use the FBI’s database they have to open a joint investigation with the department, according to the DHS privacy assessment. The ability to link databases would likely make it far easier to search…

--

--

Dave Gershgorn
OneZero

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.