WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — The FBI’s newly created Next Generation Identification (NGI) system allows police departments across the country to submit photos based on facial recognition to find any matches among millions of mug shots, State Department data and driver’s license photos.
Lynn Cozart was charged in Beaver County, Pa., in 1995 for molesting kids; and almost a year later, on Feb. 15, 1996, Cozart was found guilty of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, endangering the welfare of children and three counts of Indecent Assault. But when it came time for sentencing, Cozart vanished and became a fugitive on April 8, 1996, CBS News reports.
Last month, Muskogee police officers helped capture the man on the FBI’s Most Wanted list after a facial recognition system taken from a past mug shot tracked the convicted child molester to an Oklahoma Walmart where he was working under an assumed name, David Stone.
The FBI’s NGI system contains nearly 125 million criminal and civilian fingerprints and 24 million mug shots. The software can capture an image of a person’s face from videos or photos and then seek nationwide matches from a wide array of state IDs, government-issued licenses or other scanned images of an individual’s face.
The system was designed by Lockheed Martin at a cost of $1 billion and went live in September – allowing any law enforcement agency across the country to scan and match one’s photos to millions of stored photos of faces.
The FBI said it has a “Minority Report” type of technology available now that allows for a suspect’s scars, tattoos, voices and their eyes to be tracked down through software. The expanded technological tracking has sparked mass surveillance and civil liberties disputes.
“You take a case that had a 19 year gap, or the guy was on the run for 19 years,” said Stephen L. Morris, the assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division, which includes NGI.
“Technology did result in the identification of that guy because it happened to provide them a lead they were able to run down in Oklahoma,” he told CBS News. “When the task force in Oklahoma started running it down, they were able to verify the individual under a different name was one in the same as the individual working in Walmart.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the FBI in 2013 over the program, seeking to “shine light on the program and its face-recognition components.
“NGI will result in a massive expansion of government data collection for both criminal and noncriminal purposes,” EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch, who testified before the U.S. Senate on the privacy implications of facial recognition technology in 2012, said in a statement last year. “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.”
Senior policy analyst at the ACLU, Jay Stanley, told CBS News that potential risks to innocent individuals exist due to a lack of adequate privacy safeguards and increasing power among national security agencies post 9-11.
“Nobody has any objection to the FBI identifying an unknown perpetrator caught on a video and catching that person if they committed a crime,” Stanley said.
“But compared to fingerprints, facial recognition as a biometric is very susceptible to abuse because it can be applied to a person without their knowledge, let alone their permission or participation,” he said. “There is a lot of potential for facial recognition databases to be applied for mass surveillance, for identifying people in a context where they don’t expect or want to be identified.”