FBI facial recognition: There's an app for that

What happens when FBI agents are in the field and want to tap into the massive $1 billion facial recognition database? There’s an app for that. Or at least there will be a mobile tool for capturing photographs, fingerprints, iris prints and other biographical data, according to the solicitation notice to vet software. The purpose of the Biometric Identification (B-iD) Tools Program “is to provide FBI users the tools needed in order to access the biometric identification power of the US Government, in real time, at any point on the planet in support of operations.”

Surveillance FBI facial recognition app

The software will also have a “mission configurator” to create “mission profiles so that the B-ID program can dynamically meet the need of various organizational groups and their collection needs for specific missions.” Although the FBI has facial recognition and fingerprint databases, is rolling in iris scans, voice recordings, and skin characteristics like scar recognition, some experts claim [PDF] that deceptive crooks and motivated terrorists can still evade detection. Spoofing biometrics tactics might include “attacks” such as the “modern use of painted contact lenses and polymeric fake fingers.”

So what other biometric data might the feds collect for its Next-Generation Identification system? There are plans to ID culprits via tattoo recognition. According to NBCNews, researchers are building a computer program that can learn and be capable of handling photos “taken in the wild”—such as “photos snapped by chance, by friends or a security camera.” Or perhaps images captured in public, aka the wild, via the upcoming B-iD app?

There have been automatic recognition programs written previously to identify tattoos, scars, moles, or other skin markings, but Terrance Boult, a computer science professor at the University of Colorado, and his colleagues built upon that system. They added in artificial intelligence to find “likely matches in a photo database. The program is able to find similar tattoos that are not exactly the same, but which might help identify gang members who get coordinating ink.” A U.S. Army grant provided the funding for this research.

Tattoo recognition database

There is a working version of this tattoo recognition program, but it’s not ready for the FBI yet. The researchers are “trying to ensure the program is able to handle the enormous databases” like those used by the FBI and Defense Department. Boult said, “We're trying to deal with witness descriptions because we get those all the time. You want to be able to say, 'Scar, left cheek' and find something." The researchers plan to add “several more features” to the program so it can better help law enforcement. The team is working on getting the program “to recognize more than 100 tattoo descriptors (individual descriptors include ‘skull,’ ‘flower,’ ‘flame’ and ‘koi fish’).”

Additionally, the FBI has launched another new Next Generation Initiative, but this one deals with the cyber world and naming and blaming hackers. According to Richard McFeely, executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch, “A key aim of the Next Generation Cyber Initiative has been to expand our ability to quickly define ‘the attribution piece’ of a cyber attack to help determine an appropriate response. The attribution piece is: who is conducting the attack or the exploitation and what is their motive. In order to get to that, we’ve got to do all the necessary analysis to determine who is at the other end of the keyboard perpetrating these actions.”

NASA, ESA developing interplanetary internet

For crafty crooks with a bazillion dollars, or anyone else who might someday plan to escape all this surveillance and reclaim privacy by taking up space travel, don’t count on that cutting the intelligence communications cord. The Internet is going interplanetary thanks to NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). Working together, the space agencies “successfully have used an experimental version of interplanetary Internet to control an educational rover from the International Space Station. The experiment used NASA's Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocol to transmit messages and demonstrate technology that one day may enable Internet-like communications with space vehicles and support habitats or infrastructure on another planet.”

Meanwhile, for us Earth-bound Internet users, the Department of Homeland Security has launched yet another type of surveillance for the government. DHS awarded Accenture Federal Services a $3 million, yearlong “biosurveillance” contract for mining social media. The program “will manage, link and analyze data from social media networks in real time to better inform and protect the public in the event of a national health emergency such as an infectious disease outbreak or a biological attack.” Like most of Homeland Security’s other social media monitoring programs, the data-mining surveillance will examine the “vast amount of data and information shared through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs" and other social networking channels that are not yet defined. 

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