This article originally appeared on heartland.org.
Rather than broadcasting an omnipresent face via telescreen,, a new government program may be bringing “Big Brother” to street corners and traffic intersections near you.
In September, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a statement heralding the expansion of the Next Generation Identification System (NGIS) data network,including two new services, Rap Black and the Interstate Photo System (IPS).
According to the press release, Rap Black is intended to allow police to run background and criminal history checks on individuals holding positions of trust, like public school teachers. IPS is a facial-recognition software tool, with the ability to categorize and search through photographs associated with criminal suspects.
What may sound like exciting advances in technology, however, may actually be new ways to violate citizens’ privacy. The volume of “biometric information” — quantified identification markers such as genetic signatures, fingerprints, eye retina and iris patterns, vocal patterns, or hand measurements — collected by law enforcement agents is immense, say some digital privacy advocates.
Big Brother Shares, Big Brother Cares
“There’s just so much that the federal government collects at this point,” warned Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney for the Electric Frontier Foundation (EFF). Interviewed by liberal online magazine AlterNet in 2012, Lynch explained the potential dangers of such government programs, saying that “there’s so much data sharing going on between agencies, so many points of interaction with government where data is collected. The data is pretty massive at this point.”
In addition to civil service agencies sharing private information between one another, local law enforcement agencies may serve as another source of individuals’ personal data.
“Any sort of arrest, and at this point, it could be as minimal as being stopped for a moving violation, because lots of police officers carry mobile fingerprint scanners,” Lynch told AlterNet. “Even if you’re just standing in the street corner in Los Angeles, trying to get a job, you can get your fingerprints scanned. So there are a number of ways even just the common citizen could have their fingerprints collected by the federal government.”
Additionally, many may not realize it, but government agents may also be using your Facebook account to compile private data about you and your friends, in order to be able facilitate identification, should they commit a crime in the future.
With facial recognition technology built into Facebook’s “tagging friends” feature, and other information stored on your personal account, such data collected may be shared with third parties such as the national government.
Advocates of the new technologies argue that there will be no infringement upon citizens’ privacy, as Rapid DNA and biometric systems will help law enforcement quickly categorize the “lawfully” obtained DNA samples for the state and federal databases.
However, not everyone is convinced that these technologies are as benign as promised.
Testifying before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law in 2012, Lynch warned that NGI would help facilitate situations in which such “anyone could end up in the database — even if they’re not involved in a crime — by just happening to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, by fitting a stereotype that some in society have decided is a threat, or by, for example, engaging in suspect activities such as political protest.”
According to the Daily Mail, the FBI’s new tracking systems were installed in 18,000 local and state law enforcement agencies in September. The FBI, however, plans to further expand the reach and functionality of NGI in the future.
Hannah Yang (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Athens, Ohio.