FBI to Share Facial Recognition Software with States

As part of a larger $1 billion program to beef up identification systems, the FBI will offer free access to its facial recognition software and 12.8 million image database.

by / August 27, 2012
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The FBI recently announced that it will distribute free facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies following a pilot program of the system, reported Slate.com. Police will be able to use the Universal Face Workstation (UFW) program, which grants access to a central database of about 13 million images. Police departments will also be able to submit and enhance their own image files to be cross-referenced with existing images in the database to identify matches.

UFW, which was piloted in February in Michigan, is part of a $1 billion biometrics FBI program called Next Generation Identification, which will create a database for scars and tattoos.

The program is expected to launch within a few weeks, while full operational capability for facial recognition is scheduled for summer 2014, according to a statement from the FBI. Officials in Hawaii, Maryland, South Carolina, Ohio, New Mexico, Kansas, Arizona, Tennessee, Nebraska and Missouri have expressed interest in participating in the facial recognition pilot program.

Amid recent news like the WikiLeaks report on the national TrapWire system, some are concerned with privacy issues surrounding facial recognition technology, but the FBI insists such technology is only being used to supplement current biometrics, such as fingerprinting, to identify criminals.

“The Facial Recognition Pilot provides a search of the national repository of photos consisting of criminal mug shots, which were taken at the time of a criminal booking,” wrote Jerome M. Pender, deputy assistant director of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the FBI, in a statement. “Only criminal mug shot photos are used to populate the national repository. Query photos and photos obtained from social networking sites, surveillance cameras and similar sources are not used to populate the national repository.”

Since the time of the statement, Pender was named executive assistant director of the FBI’s Information and Technology Branch.

The FBI's Next Generation Identification program, of which the facial recognition system is part, is 60 percent deployed, according to a statement.

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