Latest Snowden revelation: NSA harvesting millions of images daily for facial recognition - report
2 June 2014, 10:51 -- The US National Security Agency is collecting millions of images of people to use in facial recognition software, the latest top secret documents provided by the former NSA and CIA contractor Edward Snowden show.
According to a leaked 2011 report, the agency could intercept tens of thousands of 'facial recognition quality images' out of millions gathered each day in an apparent bid to create a facial recognition database.
The report referred to the gathered images as a 'tremendous untapped potential' which could revolutionize the way the agency finds intelligence targets. Previously, the NSA focused on written and oral communications. The report said the NSA was using new software to exploit a flood of images included in intercepted emails, text messages, social media posts, video conferences and other communications.
The documents also show a significant increase in reliance on facial recognition technology at the agency over the past four years.
The New York Times that first broke the news on Sunday said it wasn't clear how many people, whether US citizens or nationals of other countries, had been caught up in the effort, but noted that neither US privacy laws nor US surveillance laws provide specific protections for facial images.
A NSA spokeswoman said, however, that the agency would be required to get court approval for imagery of Americans it collects through its surveillance programs. She also stated that NSA had no access to state driver's license pictures or passport photos. However, NSA is using software called Wellspring that locates photos in emails and other communications which could, for instance, contain passport data.
The Daily Mail points out that facial recognition algorithms used by the NSA have so far provided mixed results. The system is known to sometimes mistake one person for another with only a slight resemblance between the two.
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