FBI not following GAO recommendations for face biometrics but expanding iris recognition work

FBI not following GAO recommendations for face biometrics but expanding iris recognition work

A series of six recommendations made by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to the FBI in May, 2016 to ensure the privacy protections and accuracy of its facial recognition capabilities have yet to be followed, according to a letter (PDF) from Comptroller General of the United States Gene L. Dodaro to Attorney General William P. Bar.

The GAO notes that 77 percent of all recommendations from 4 years earlier had been implemented, as of a November 2018 report. For recommendations about the FBI’s facial recognition systems, however the Department of Justice does not even agree that it should implement that many.

Three of the recommendations relate to privacy. The GAO recommended that the DOJ investigate why privacy impact assessments and System of Records Notice (SORN) were not being published as required, and then make changes to meet the requirement. The DOJ disagreed that it should look into the non-publication of PIAs, but agreed partially with the recommendations regarding SORN. It was also recommended that the DOJ to pan and carry out audits to determine if searches using the FBI’s facial recognition technology were being conducting in line with the FBI’s own policies.

The FBI was asked to verify the accuracy of the Next Generation Identification-Interstate Photo System (NGI-IPS), which holds approximately 30 million images, but the DOJ replied that the agency’s own testing was sufficient. That testing did not include a false positive rate, however, GAO says, which makes it an incomplete assessment. The agency was also asked to review the operations of the NGI-IPS annually to make sure it is meeting the needs of federal, state, and local law enforcement. Finally, the FBI was asked to assess the accuracy of each external facial recognition system it uses, but the DOJ countered that the FBI does not have authority over other agencies’ systems.

“By addressing these issues, DOJ would have reasonable assurance that their [facial recognition] technology provides accurate information that helps enhance, rather than hinder, criminal investigations,” GAO Director of Justice and Law Enforcement Issues Gretta Goodwin told Nextgov. “Even more, DOJ would help ensure that it is sufficiently protecting the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. citizens.”

CJIS and NIST iris recognition vendor test coming later this year

The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) meanwhile has received permission to expand its research on iris recognition technology, and bring it to the NGI system, WVNews reports. CJIS Division Acting Director Kimberley Del Greco told WVNews that previously the division had only a preliminary pilot program for iris biometrics.

“The CJIS Division has received permission from the FBI to take iris to the next level as a business operation,” she said. “So the next years we’ll be working on moving iris into NGI (Next Generation Identification). That’s where our fingerprints and facial recognition records sit.”

Del Greco said the technology can perform “100 percent identification” from searches within minutes, and that as a non-contact biometric, it could be helpful for identifying uncooperative individuals. She also noted that the Federal Bureau of Prisons uses iris technology for prisoner transport.

“Other federal agencies are collecting iris; the FBI will have the national iris database for criminal records. We will have fingerprints, facial recognition, palm prints and then iris.”

The FBI will rely on iris technology both from in-house development and private companies, and that CJIS will run a challenge of iris recognition algorithms through NIST, which will be launched later this year.

Much of the technology for the FBI’s facial recognition system was developed in-house, according to FBI Facial Analysis, Comparison and Evaluation (FACE) Unit Head Leslie Cavis.

“There are people who are threats to our country, and we need to do everything that we can to circumvent those threats,” Cavis says. “Biometrics is helping us to do that in a major way.”

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