Because of the big news about the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, we missed another big story on Saturday that was published by The New York Times: Based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the paper reports the U.S. spy agency is collecting millions of pictures a day from emails, text messages, social media, videoconferences and other sources for a facial-recognition project.
It's important to note that it's not clear whether the bulk collection includes the pictures of Americans and it is also not clear whether a facial-recognition program of this sort is bound by current U.S. law.
The Times reports that the NSA is crosschecking those public images with official databases. One document showed an image with other information like whether the person shown was on the no-fly list. The Times adds:
"The spy agency'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, videoconferences and other communications, the N.S.A. documents reveal. Agency officials believe that technological advances could revolutionize the way that the N.S.A. finds intelligence targets around the world, the documents show. The agency's ambitions for this highly sensitive ability and the scale of its effort have not previously been disclosed.
"The agency intercepts 'millions of images per day' — including about 55,000 'facial recognition quality images' — which translate into 'tremendous untapped potential,' according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show.
'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' that can help 'implement precision targeting,' noted a 2010 document.
It's a complex program and a New York Times exclusive, so we encourage to click over if you want to know more.