Top secret documents released by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden reveal that the federal government has been capturing millions of images each day to feed into its facial recognition database program.
The New York Times reported that NSA’s use of the imaging data has grown significantly in recent years. For instance, the agency now has at its disposal new software to “exploit the flood of images included in emails, text messages, social media, videoconferences and other communications,” the newspaper reported.
Documents from 2011 indicate that the “agency intercepts ‘millions of images per day ‘ — including about 55,000 ‘facial recognition quality images’ — which translate into ‘tremendous untapped potential,’” the newspaper reported, CNN said.
Facial recognition technology basically allows for the identification of an individual based solely on a digital image or video graphic that matches the image to that stored in a massive database.
“[The software] has difficulty matching low-resolution images, and photographs of people’s faces taken from the side or angles can be impossible to match against mug shots or other head-on photographs,” The Times reported.
But the NSA defended its use of the technology.
“We would not be doing our job if we didn’t seek ways to continuously improve the precision of signals intelligence activities — aiming to counteract the efforts of valid foreign intelligence targets to disguise themselves or conceal plans to harm the United States and its allies,” said NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines, about The Times report, CNN said. “The lawful collection of foreign identity intelligence allows NSA to better identify and track such targets.”