Snowden Documents Reveal How the NSA Turns Your Selfie Into a Mugshot

Media is reporting that documents provided by Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency (NSA) are in the process of collecting “millions of images intercepted from global communications for a facial-recognition programs to identify and track intelligence targets.”

These images are being siphoned from “emails, text messages, social media, videoconferences, and other communications.”

The 2010 document states: “It’s not just the traditional communications we’re after: It’s taking a full-arsenal approach that digitally exploits the clues a target leaves behind in their regular activities on the net to compile biographic and biometric information [that can help] implement precision targeting.”

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Vanee Vines, spokesperson for the NSA replied: “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. The lawful collection of foreign identity intelligence allows NSA to better identify and track such targets.”

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Back in April the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released information concerning the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) facial recognition databases and their use of the data.

Through documents, the EFF discovered that 4.3 million photos will be available through databases by next year for “non-criminal purposes”.

This is on top of the 52 million photos that are being allocated to this existing database. Images, fingerprints and other identification on citizens is being collected and stored for any future purpose law enforcement may uncover.

The Next Generation Identification (NGI) program has been using a massive biometric database which is slated to replace Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) which collaborates with “state of the art biometric identification services”.

The EFF explains that the NGI “builds on the FBI’s legacy fingerprint database—which already contains well over 100 million individual records—and has been designed to include multiple forms of biometric data, including palm prints and iris scans in addition to fingerprints and face recognition data. NGI combines all these forms of data in each individual’s file, linking them to personal and biographic data like name, home address, ID number, immigration status, age, race, etc. This immense database is shared with other federal agencies and with the approximately 18,000 tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States.”

Fingerprints of both violent and non-violent criminals are now being melded together to create a larger pot to take from.

In September of 2013, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) tested the Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS) at a Western Hockey League game in Washington State.
DHS collaborated with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to implement this technology that “will determine whether the system can distinguish the faces of 20 volunteers out of a crowd of nearly 6,000 hockey fans, to evaluate how successfully BOSS can locate a person of interest.”

According to documents from 2012 regarding BOSS, this “technology consists of two cameras capable of taking stereoscopic images of a face and the back end Remote Matching System (RMS).

Stereoscopic images are two images of the same object, taken at slightly different angles that create an illusion of 3-dimensional depth from the 2-dimensional images. The cameras transfer the pair of images to the RMS via fiber optic or wireless technology.

The RMS then processes and stores the two images into a 3D signature, which is the mathematical representation of the stereo-pair images that the system uses for matching.

Using the BOSS facial recognition algorithms, the signature is matched against a locally stored database created from volunteers, using a combination of mathematical and statistical analysis.”

Electronic Warfare Associates (EWA) was awarded a $5.2 million contract to develop BOSS. The initial version of BOSS did not meet DHS’ requirements of achieving “80 to 90 percent identification accuracy at a distance of 100 meters and could not process and identify images in less than 30 seconds against a biometric database.”

EWA designed BOSS to consist of “two towers with infrared sensors that capture two pictures of people from different angles to create a 3D visualization of a person’s face to perform comparison or identification through facial recognition.”

The estimated 6,000 attendees at the Toyota Center in Kennewick, Washington State were victim to the BOSS system; however this is not the first time they have been under such surveillance.

Because the PNNL has a relationship with the TC in Kennewick, the DHS has decided that this venue will “serve as a long-term testbed for the [BOSS] project.”

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