For many years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s main source of biometric identification has been to use fingerprints as a unique attribute to identify their suspects. The evolution of this use has gone from the old ink pad to the modern day scanners and readers that will record a person’s fingerprints digitally. However, by mid-January of 2012, this will all begin to change. Nextgov.com reported on October 7th, 2011 that the FBI will begin to incorporate a facial recognition service in several states, including Michigan, Washington, Florida, and North Carolina, which allow the local authorities to identify unknown person of interests in photos.
This is the beginning of the transition from using the FBI’s existing fingerprint database to using a new biometric marker to identify suspects in a quicker but still accurate fashion. The reason behind this evolution in biometrics is because more often than not, the local police has a picture of the suspect or the person of interest, but are unable to identify who this individual is. With this new information from the FBI, the local police can identify who the person in the photo is by comparing that photo to a list of mug shots ranked in order of similarity to the features of the subject’s photo. Currently, the agent who have to already have a person’s name before they are able to run it through a scanner or reader in order to retrieve a photo of this person. It is important to note however, that this biometric service only provides a list of candidates and not a direct match. While this is an innovative approach to the use of biometrics, it is not without its own controversy.
Because this scanner does not provide an exact match, this is where the controversy lies in this
project. Immigrant rights groups are concerned that this new biometric device maybe used by the Homeland Security Department as a way to intrusively filter out immigrants who are in this country illegally. Currently, the DHS is running a fingerprint program that takes fingerprint scans from booked offenders and send it to the department’s IDENT biometric database to check on their legality status. The concerns of the immigration rights groups is that this new program may lead to a slippery slope of using the photo biometrics as a scanner that oversees all immigrants, not just the ones who were detained for committing illegal acts. Much like the “The Cure” from X-Men 3, where the cure was eventually used as a weapon against the mutants, these immigrant rights groups are worried about the potential abuse and misuse of the reader and program.
However, government officials have moved to alleviate these worries by employing an elaborate system of checks and balances to guard against abuse and misuse of this biometric tool. The point of the project, in their point-a-view, is to provide scanners and readers that will help in the pursuit in the capture of highly dangerous criminals, and not to collect a bunch of surveillance film. However, isn’t having a biometric tool and collection of data a form of surveillance after all?