The US National Security Agency is intercepting a massive volume of images to be used in facial recognition programs, according to the New York Times.
Newly released documents from former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden show that the agency has explored millions of images from peopleâ€™s emails, text messages, videoconferences and other communication channels to identify targets and terrorist suspects.
According to 2011 documents, around 55,000 â€œfacial recognition quality imagesâ€ are collected daily.
â€œItâ€™s not just the traditional communications weâ€™re after: Itâ€™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 informationâ€ that can help â€œimplement precision targeting,â€ a 2010 document reads.
Civil liberties advocates are concerned facial recognition can become invasive and threaten peopleâ€™s privacy, especially since federal privacy laws and national surveillance laws donâ€™t address the issue of facial images.
â€œWe would not be doing our job if we didnâ€™t seek ways to continuously improve the precision of signals intelligence activities â€” aiming to counteract the efforts of valid foreign intelligence targets to disguise themselves or conceal plans to harm the United States and its allies,â€ said Vanee M. Vines, the agencyâ€™s spokeswoman.
The NSA did not clarify if it collects facial imagery from Facebook accounts and other social media networks through means other than communications intercepts. Newly disclosed documents suggest that it has considered getting access to iris scans through phone and email surveillance programs, such as Wellspring.
Documents show the agency has reinforced its facial recognition technology under the Obama administration, after uncovering two planned terrorist attacks.