GAO criticizes the privacy and accuracy of the FBI’s face recognition systems.

Photo via Government Accountability Office

Last week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a startling report on the state of the FBI’s face recognition systems. The report comes as the FBI seeks to shield its biometric databases — the Next Generation Identification system — from public scrutiny. According to the GAO’s report, the FBI has access to hundreds of millions more photos than previously thought. As the EFF’s Jennifer Lynch writes:

According to the GAO Report, FBI’s Facial Analysis, Comparison, and Evaluation (FACE) Services unit not only has access to FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) face recognition database of nearly 30 million civil and criminal mug shot photos, it also has access to the State Department’s Visa and Passport databases, the Defense Department’s biometric database, and the drivers license databases of at least 16 states. Totaling 411.9 million images, this is an unprecedented number of photographs, most of which are of Americans and foreigners who have committed no crimes.

The GAO claims that the FBI has yet to audit states’ use of its system, despite promises to the contrary. It also has yet to adequately test the accuracy of its database, or the 16 state systems it searches against it. “Without actual assessments of the results from its state and federal partners,” the report notes, “the FBI is making decisions to enter into agreements based on assumptions that the search results may provide valuable investigative leads,” leaving open the possibility that an innocent person could mistakenly be identified in an investigation.

Public comment on the FBI’s proposed Privacy Act exemptions for its NGI system are due by July 6, 2016.