NSA collects pictures of faces to track terrorists

by NAOMI DOSHI Staff Writer

The National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting images of people’s faces for a facial recognition program that will be used to find terrorists.

Millions of images are compiled every day. Out of all the photos collected over four years, only 55,000 are usable.

The NSA is using global surveillance to gather images from emails, texts, video conferences, social media sites, and most other forms of online communication. They then used other sources to cross-reference to pictures. The NSA could not use American passports or driving licenses, but they did have access to other countries’ identity cards.

The main facial recognition program they will use is the Tundra Freeze; however, the program is flawed. It does not always match the correct photos, which results in false identification.

In fact, the program was wrong when it tried to identify an image of Osama Bin Laden.

However, the program is still considered sophisticated. The NSA showed its abilities to succeed in a presentation. For example, it was able to correctly match a man in two different pictures. In the first, the man was bald, and in the second, he was wearing different clothes, was in a different place, and was no longer bald. It also found information about his recent travels.

There were only two journalists, both from the New York Times, who received the information.

The information was found in the documents from 2011 that were leaked by Edward Snowden, who released the documents after working at the NSA.

There have been facial images in previous documents leaked by Snowden.

One document stated, “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… [to] implement precision targeting.”

This has caused widespread fear about privacy and the NSA’s limits. The NSA already has access to many written and oral forms of communication.

“I’m not sure if the facial recognition program is absolutely necessary for them to use, especially since it makes many mistakes. I think that they can use the program, but only if it is completely accurate and much more reliable than other methods. If it isn’t much better than collecting written and oral communication, I don’t think the NSA should be allowed to intrude on our privacy,” said freshman Sravya Vegunta.

A spokesperson for the NSA stated that they have to get court approval to browse Americans’ facial photos unless the American is in contact with an overseas target of the NSA.

Admiral Michael S. Rogers, director of the NSA, said, “We have very specific restrictions when it comes to U.S. persons… we have to stop what we’re doing if we come to the realization that somebody we’re monitoring or tracking has a U.S. connection that we were unaware of… we have to get the legal authority or justification.”

The House passed a bill in May that restricted the NSA from bulk collecting information from phones. In order to do this, the NSA must obtain a court order to search through companies’ records. Although this was a step forward for privacy, many people were concerned that it would slow down anti-terrorism efforts.

The Senate will meet to revise these laws and develop new ones to help maintain the balance of privacy and safety.

Freshman Pari Pandey said, “I use social media all the time and I’ve posted a lot of pictures. It feels like the NSA is intruding on my privacy even more than they used to. I worry about other people seeing my pictures, but now a government agency is collecting them too?”

Rogers said that using national threats as excuses to compromise privacy is not advisable.

“If we change who we are and what we believe and what we represent in the name of security, they have won. I have always believed that,” he said.

How do you think the NSA should balance privacy and safety?

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