Facial recognition: police store 5.8 million photos

facial recognition: police store 5.8 million photos

More than 5.8 million facial images are currently available in the databases of german security agencies for inquiries by police and customs authorities. This is the result of a response from the federal government to a question from interior affairs expert andrej hunko (left).

The department of the federal criminal police office (BKA) responsible for politically motivated crime and espionage also had a further 3124 photos "stored ready for research" at the beginning of january, as the interior ministry goes on to explain. However, the image database of the state security department is not accessible to all users of the police information network.

The bundestag will discuss the use of automated facial recognition systems in public places today. These systems can recognize people whose photos are stored in a police database live, so to speak, when they are filmed by a video camera.

Federal minister of the interior horst seehofer (CSU) wants to forego the use of corresponding software for the time being. He still had questions about this, he had explained last week. That is why he would like to delete a passage on the use of appropriate software at train stations and other security-relevant locations from an internal draft for the new federal police law.

In the central police database, the participating agencies store information on detainees for a limited period of time, as well as on people who have been put on the wanted list or subjected to identification procedures. Several images of a person can be stored there. The number of facial images has increased by around one million photos in three and a half years. In may 2016, only around 4.86 million photos of 3.34 million people had been entered into the system.

"The BKA must explain this increase," hunko demanded. The increasing use of software to process mass data had apparently led to a real "hunger for data".

Even if the automated use of video cameras remains a thing of the future for the time being, facial recognition systems are already being used to search for specific individuals in police databases. According to the federal government, in the first half of 2019 a total of 23.915 requests made to the BKA’s facial recognition system. The federal police conducted 1200 searches during this period and identified 219 people in the process.

Last year, the BKA tested facial recognition systems from five manufacturers. The order for a new system is to be placed before the end of march. The software could be used, for example, in police investigations or in the police identification service. The exact functioning of the systems is not known to the BKA, according to the federal government’s answer. However, "machine learning methods" were used for this purpose.

With systems that interfered so deeply with personal rights, the BKA could not use software whose functionality it did not know, hunko explained. The source code could not remain the trade secret of the manufacturer – otherwise the ministry of the interior would have to stop this "blind flight".


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