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Government facial recognition use within legal rights, says NSA


The NSA is currently developing facial recognition programs using the millions images it has stored through its regular surveillance of digital communications among American citizens, according to a report in The New York Times.

The project, which has been in development for four years, will use facial recognition software that can process images from the millions of emails, text messages and video conferences it already intercepts.

Reported previously in BiometricUpdate.com, the NSA’s use of facial recognition is back in the news, following a report in the New York Times on the agency’s use of the technology.

There are federal privacy and surveillance laws in place regarding facial images. However, the digital communication images being intercepted by the NSA likely involve Americans communicating with someone outside the country, which could be an exception to privacy laws.

The NSA says this facial recognition program is necessary because unlike the FBI and state governments, it doesn’t have access to driver’s license or passport photos. According to the agency’s new director, the NSA is within its legal rights when it comes to using facial-recognition technology on Americans.

“We do not do this in some unilateral basis against U.S. citizens,” Admiral Michael S. Rogers said at a Bloomberg Government cybersecurity conference in Washington last week. “We have very specific restrictions when it comes to U.S. persons.”

“In broad terms, we have to stop what we’re doing if we come to the realization that somebody we’re monitoring or tracking has a U.S. connection that we were unaware of,” Rogers said about using the technology. “We have to assess the situation and if we think there is a legal basis for this and we have to get the legal authority or justification.”

Rogers also added that US agencies, corporations and citizens need to better understand how data is collected and used.

“The idea that you can be totally anonymous in the digital age is increasingly difficult to execute,” he said. “We have framed this debate much too narrow from my perspective. This is much bigger than the National Security Agency.”


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