Databases of facial images proliferate


Few people realise how many databases may include images of their face; these may be owned by data brokers, social media companies such as Facebook and Snapchat, and governments. The systems in use by Snap and the Chinese start-up Face++ don't save facial images, but map detailed points on faces and store that data instead. The FBI's latest system, as of 2017, gave it the ability to scan the images of millions of ordinary Americans collected from millions of mugshots and the driver's licence databases in 18 states. Both the extent and the accuracy of the FBI's system were questioned by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which was told that roughly one in seven searches of the FBI system returned a list entirely made up of innocent candidates, even though the target of the search was actually in the database.

Writer: Adrienne LaFrance
Publication: Atlantic
Date of publication: 2017-03-24

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