The FBI has gained access to driver's license photos for residents of Nebraska, Illinois, South Carolina, Utah, North Carolina, Delaware, Texas and other states to hunt for suspects in criminal investigations.
In memorandums obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the FBI is authorized to search state databases, which include images and personal information.
"A probe photo refers to the photo of the subject of an active FBI investigation that is submitted for search against a photo repository," states the FBI's agreement with Illinois, which is nearly identical to agreements with other states.
"The anticipated result of that search will be a photo gallery of potential matches. These potential matches (candidates) will be forwarded to the FBI, along with any associated information stored with the photo."
The disclosure comes even as the FBI has been caught obtaining the records of news, the National Security Agency has been found to be mining the cell phone records of millions of innocent Americans, the Internal Revenue Service has admitted to operating to targeting tea-party groups and Americans' trust in their government is plunging.
The agreements between the state motor vehicle divisions and the FBI allow the FBI to use facial recognition systems to compare subjects of investigations to the millions of license and identification photos retained by states.
The organization asked for information on the strategies after last summer's meeting of a Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law in which facial recognition technology was discussed.
EPIC's letter explained: "The increasing expansion of facial recognition technology carries with it a number of privacy and security concerns. Facial recognition data is personally identifiable information and improper collection, storage, and use of this information can result in identity theft or inaccurate identifications.
"Additionally, an individual's ability to control access to his or her identity, including determining when to reveal it, is an essential aspect of personal security that facial recognition technology erodes. Finally, ubiquitous and near-effortless identification eliminates individuals' ability to control their identities, posing special risk to protesters engaging in lawful, anonymous speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the right to engage in political speech anonymously."
EPIC also is suing the FBI to learn more about its development of a vast biometric identification database. It references the "Next Generation Identification" system, which reportedly aggregates fingerprints, DNA profiles, iris scans, palm prints, voice identification profiles, photographs and other identifying information.
"The FBI will use facial recognition to match images in the database against facial images obtained from CCTV and elsewhere," the organization explained, noting there are an estimated 30 million cameras recording Americans already.
An agreement with the FBI says the "intent of this service is not to provide a positive identification, but to provide the FBI agent with a valuable investigative lead and analysis to support that lead."
The agreement says the FBI will keep the photo images and information about the person identified as the "most-likely candidate" and "destroy" other gallery photos and details.
"The information involved … may identify U.S. persons, whose information is protected by the Privacy Act of 1974," it noted. "The FBI will ensure that all such information will be handled lawfully pursuant to the provisions thereof."
EPIC has reported that British police wanted to build a national mugshot database, and U.S. federal air marshals were surreptitiously photographing travelers for a time. Various companies also have used surveillance cameras for advertising studies, and various types of facial recognition technology are available.