The NSA is harvesting millions of images of faces daily

Posted Jun 1, 2014 by James Walker
It has been revealed that America's National Security Agency is collecting millions of images of faces from web searches each day.
American National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks to European officials vi...
American National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks to European officials via videoconference during a parliamentary hearing on mass surveillance at the European Council in Strasbourg, eastern France, on April 8, 2014
Frederick Florin, AFP/File
They are reportedly being used to build a sophisticated facial recognition program and are accessed through its global surveillance operations.
Documents leaked by Edward Snowden, originating in 2011, show that the NSA is actively intercepting 'millions' of images each day of which around 55,000 are of a sufficient quality to be used for facial recognition.
Neither surveillance or privacy laws specifically offer protection for the collection of facial images and it is not clear whether the operation takes place just within the USA or if other countries have also been victimized. One document from 2010 noted “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."
The FBI is currently developing a system to combine its automated fingerprint identification system with facial imagery. Social media sites such as Facebook are also regularly used to help identify targets.
Many people will view the unauthorized collection of images of their faces from the internet to be an unacceptable breach of privacy, however. Although having a huge, comprehensive facial recognition database to refer to would be incredibly helpful during police investigations, the majority of innocent citizens are likely to see it as rather controversial if they have to contribute to the system by inadvertently and without consultation supplying images of themselves to the NSA.
Vanee M. Vines, a spokeswoman for the NSA, justified the collection of the images by saying “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."