The FBI announced Monday that its new facial recognition database, the Interstate Photo Service, is operational. The database is described by the bureau as “an investigative tool that provides an image-searching capability of photographs associated with criminal identities.” But as the Verge points out, the 52 million faces that are projected to ultimately comprise it will include not just mug shots of apprehended criminals but also photos drawn from civilian background checks.
Per documents obtained by watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation through a Freedom of Information Act request, the FBI predicts the database will contain 4.3 million photos from noncriminal contexts like employment records by the year 2015. EFF also notes that in addition to the 46 million images from criminal databases and 4.3 million civilian images, the FBI anticipates almost 1 million images will come from two categories, “Special Population Cognizant” and ”New Repositories,” which aren’t defined in the documents.
The IPS facial recognition system, if provided with a suspect’s face, has an 85 percent chance of correctly returning the suspect’s name in a list of 50 possibilities, according to the EFF documents. The FBI argues that, because the “candidate list” produced is an “investigative lead” and not an identification, there is by definition no chance that an innocent person will be falsely identified by the system.