Report: NSA collects millions of images for facial recognition


The National Security Agency (NSA) sifts through online communications to find millions images for its facial recognition surveillance programs, according to a report from The New York Times.


The agency uses software to grab facial images found in emails, text messages, video conferences and social media, The New York Times reported, based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The NSA’s “reliance on facial recognition technology has grown significantly over the last four years as the agency has turned to new software to exploit the flood of images included in emails, text messages, social media, video conferences and other communications,” according to the report.

The agency’s use of the facial recognition technology has increased under the Obama administration after a 2010 “breakthrough” allowed the agency to match facial images across multiple databases, the report said.

Pointing to NSA documents from as recently as 2011, the report noted the varying success of these programs.

While analysts were able to identifying one person in multiple photos — despite different hair styles, clothing and locations — in one instance, another attempt to find images of an individual returned 42 results, including “several that were obviously false hits.”

An agency spokeswoman told The New York Times that the NSA would have to get court approval to use images of Americans collected through its facial recognition surveillance programs.

According to the report, the spokeswoman said the NSA does not have access to databases of drivers’ licenses or passport photos, but she declined to comment on whether the agency has access to databases of photos of foreign visa applicants or images from social media networks.