- How to watch the Copa del Rey Final online for free 5 Years Ago
- How to watch the DFB-Pokal final for free 5 Years Ago
- Curvy Wife Guy drops music video for rap song ‘Chubby Sexy’ Friday 7:33 PM
- A ‘Black Mirror’ spinoff mini-series is coming to YouTube via Netflix Latin America Friday 5:56 PM
- Kanye West appears on David Letterman’s Netflix show to talk Trump, TMZ, and Drake Friday 3:27 PM
- QAnon believers link small-town arrest to deep state conspiracy without evidence Friday 1:58 PM
- Instagram photos showing prison conditions spark massive protest Friday 1:33 PM
- ‘Gay rat wedding’ headline sparks amazing new meme Friday 1:03 PM
- ‘I read a gossip piece’ meme mocks Moby’s Instagram post Friday 12:39 PM
- Rotten Tomatoes wants to see your ticket stub to leave a verified review Friday 11:46 AM
- ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ movie delayed to 2020 to fix his look Friday 11:39 AM
- ‘Swamp Thing’ gets off to a promising start, but can it tell a convincing love story? Friday 11:34 AM
- ‘Falling on deaf ears’: ‘Queer Eye’ star sparks conversation about ableist idioms Friday 11:15 AM
- Parents are spending thousands on YouTube camps that teach kids how to be famous Friday 10:43 AM
- In season 2 of ‘She’s Gotta Have It,’ Spike Lee remains unapologetically himself Friday 10:36 AM
NSA collects ‘millions of images per day’ for facial recognition
Think twice before you snap that selfie—the NSA may be ‘liking’ it in its own way.
The National Security Agency is collecting “millions of images per day” from emails, text messages, social networks and other Web sources, according to a New York Times report based on documents provided by Edward Snowden.
The image collection is part of the NSA’s top-secret facial recognition program, which the agency considers vital in its efforts to identify and track terrorism suspects, the documents reveal. As one document from 2010 explains: “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” in an effort “implement precision targeting.”
Of the millions of images collected daily, roughly 55,000 are of “facial recognition quality,” according to NSA documents. However, the program is sophisticated enough to track individuals across the Internet and communication platform even if a suspect changes his appearance. For example, the Times reports, it can recognize a man photographed with and without a beard, or with a bald head and a full mane of hair.
The NSA also reportedly collects images by intercepting video teleconferences for the purposes of facial recognition. According to the Times, these efforts go far beyond efforts revealed in February by the Guardian, which reported that the NSA and its U.K. counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), accessed the webcams of people who used Yahoo’s video chat service.
In addition to the NSA’s own technology, the agency also reportedly uses commercial tools, like those developed by PittPatt, an image and video analysis company created at Carnegie Mellon University and acquired by Google in July 2011.
U.S. privacy laws do not currently provide clear protection for the use of citizens’ images—a gap that some Members of Congress have recognized for years.
Unlike telephone metadata, which the NSA collects on Americans in bulk, images are considered “content” under the law, like the text of emails or phone call recordings, all of which may not be obtained by the agency without a warrant. That does not mean, however, that Americans’ photos are not swept up by the NSA. A so-called “loophole” in Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act allows the NSA to “query” the information of U.S. citizens who are in contact with targets overseas.
In a statement to the Times, an NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines defended the agency’s facial recognition program as vital to national security.
“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,” Vines said.
NSA documents reportedly reveal that the agency ramped up its facial recognition efforts following two attempted terrorist attacks on the U.S.: The December 2009 attempt by Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, later dubbed the “underwear bomber,” who failed to blow up a plane headed to Detroit with a bomb hidden in his underwear; and the May 2010 attempt by Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad to explode a car bomb in Times Square.
In 2010, the NSA successfully matched images in two separate databases—a major “breakthrough,” according to the Times, that has evolved into image matching between the national identification databases of foreign governments, border crossings, and other sources.
The NSA is not the only organization using facial recognition technology. Other U.S. agencies, including the FBI and the State Department, using facial recognition technology, as do unnumbered private companies.
Photo by don relyea/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) (remix by Andrew Couts)
Andrew Couts is the former editor of Layer 8, a section dedicated to the intersection of the Internet and the state—and the gaps in between. Prior to the Daily Dot, Couts served as features editor and features writer for Digital Trends, associate editor of TheWeek.com, and associate editor at Maxim magazine. When he’s not working, Couts can be found hiking with his German shepherds or blasting around on motorcycles.