FBI’s face-tracking program up and running

The FBI has initiated a tool to identify and search for people’s faces, it announced on Monday.

The facial recognition system is one of the new programs being rolled out as part of the law enforcement agency’s new Next Generation Identification program, which it hopes will replace the current fingerprint-tracking system.

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As part of the program, the FBI will rely on mug shot photos to search for people and identity them by their tattoos, scars and other distinguishing features.

The new “facial recognition service will provide the nation’s law enforcement community with an investigative tool that provides an image-searching capability of photographs associated with criminal identities,” the FBI said on Monday. “This effort is a significant step forward for the criminal justice community in utilizing biometrics as an investigative enabler.”

The effort, which has been in the works for years at a reported cost of $1 billion, has long been criticized by privacy and civil liberties organizations who have worried about the government tracking people’s faces.

The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation previously warned that the FBI was planning to grow its database to 52 million pictures — many of them of people never arrested for a crime.

FBI Director James Comey dismissed that claim earlier this year.

The FBI will use the database “to see if we can find bad guys by matching pictures with mug shots,” he said at a House hearing.

In addition to the face-tracking tool, the FBI is also rolling out a new “Rap Back” feature that lets police continuously monitor whether ex-convicts as well as teachers or other people “holding positions of trust” violate the law.

“Law enforcement agencies, probation and parole offices, and other criminal justice entities will also greatly improve their effectiveness by being advised of subsequent criminal activity of persons under investigation or supervision,’ the FBI said.