NY Times: NSA Collecting Millions of Faces from Web

Sunday, 01 Jun 2014 06:52 AM

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In addition to sifting through metadata and collecting millions of phone records, the National Security Agency is also harvesting people's faces from communication intercepts, according to The New York Times.

Top-secret documents obtained by the Times from the archives of NSA turncoat Edward Snowden reveal that the agency has huge numbers of images of people lifted off of Skype and other web tools that it's using with facial recognition software. Presumably, the images would aid in locating terrorists but it also represents a huge foray into average citizens' lives, the Times reveals.

Urgent: NSA Spying: Do You Approve or Disapprove? Vote Now.

The agency is grabbing "millions of images per day" — including about 55,000 "facial recognition quality images" — that are described in the stolen NSA documents as "tremendous untapped potential." Like metadata, the agency is apparently storing this for use later after a court order is obtained.

The Times report says that the N.S.A. now considers facial images just as important as fingerprints and other identifiers in tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets.

Meanwhile, the agency has also used the images to perfect facial recognition technology. It has turned to new software to exploit the flood of images included in emails, text messages, social media, videoconferences and other communications, the N.S.A. documents reveal, according to the Times.

"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," noted a 2010 document obtained by the Times.

An NSA spokesperson told The Times the agency is required to get a court order to collect imagery of U.S. citizens, however.

"We would not be doing our job if we didn't seek ways to continuously improve the precision of signals intelligence activities — aiming to counteract the efforts of valid foreign intelligence targets to disguise themselves or conceal plans to harm the United States and its allies," said NSA spokeswoman Vanee M. Vines.

The facial recognition effort of NSA was hinted at in previous reporting from The Guardian in February that revealed that Britain's GCHQ surveillance agency had collected millions of still webcam images from Yahoo users with a program called Optic Nerve.

Urgent: NSA Spying: Do You Approve or Disapprove? Vote Now.

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