Smile! Documents Detail NSA's Facial Recognition Database

The New York Times reports the NSA can analyze some of these images closely enough to determine where they were taken based on spy satellite footage.

Smile! Documents Detail NSA's Facial Recognition Database
The New York Times

Smile for the NSA! The New York Times is reporting the NSA has been vacuuming up images from its global surveillance efforts for use in a facial recognition database.

“While the NSA’s primary mission is in foreign intelligence, the Times report noted it was unclear whether photos of Americans were caught in the database.” (Via KNTV)

Documents obtained by the Times by way of Edward Snowden say software for extracting data from photos has improved in recent years — enough to, say, locate people outdoors by cross-referencing their image with footage from spy satellites.

“While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show.”

Again, it’s not clear how many American citizens are caught up in trove of images, but TechCrunch says We the People aren’t exactly helping ourselves — what with our tendency to upload piles of self-portraits to social media sites.

These are the same servers the original PRISM reports indicated the NSA had direct access to — though NSA reps wouldn’t comment to the Times on whether it was tapping them for this database. (Via The Washington Post)

In any case, Engadget points out there aren’t laws protecting the use of facial imagery.

“While this content is more likely to be public than a call or message, and thus less sensitive by itself, civil liberty advocates are worried that the NSA may be diminishing privacy by learning so much about someone from a simple picture.”

For what it’s worth, the NSA says it needs a court order to analyze any images of Americans it collects.