NSA Matches Texted Images With Facial Recognition Software

By:  Warren Mass
NSA Matches Texted Images With Facial Recognition Software

The National Security Agency (NSA) is using its controversial domestic surveillance program to gather millions of images from text messages and social media (e.g, Facebook) and then running the images against its facial recognition programs to identify those pictured.

The latest revelations about the NSA’s continued violations of citizens’ privacy were made public from documents leaked to the New York Times by the former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The Snowden documents stated that the NSA intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential.”

“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” that can help “implement precision targeting,” the Times quoted from a 2010 document.

Snowden first began leaking information about what he considered to be the NSA’s abuses in late 2012, when he first made contact with Glenn Greenwald of Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Snowden contacted American documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (who resides in Berlin) in January 2013 after seeing her New York Times documentary about NSA whistleblower William Binney. The Guardian reported that Snowden was attracted to both Greenwald and Poitras after reading a Salon article Greenwald wrote detailing how Poitras’ controversial films had made her a “target of the government.”

The June 1 article reporting on Snowden’s latest revelations was co-written by Poitras and the Times’ James Risen. Russia’s RT News observed that Poitras and Greenwald are the only two journalists to have received the leaked NSA documents. The Times article noted some recent trends that privacy-conscious Americans will find disturbing:

The N.S.A. has accelerated its use of facial recognition technology under the Obama administration, the documents show, intensifying its efforts after two intended attacks on Americans that jarred the White House. The first was the case of the so-called underwear bomber, in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, tried to trigger a bomb hidden in his underwear while flying to Detroit on Christmas in 2009. Just a few months later, in May 2010, Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, attempted a car bombing in Times Square.

The released documents reveal several methods used by the NSA to expand and improve its use of facial recognition software.

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