Yet another database because all the other ones, you know, have proved so effective. The FBI is planning on spending a billion dollars over 10 years to create the world’s largest biometric database Next Generation Identification (NGI) containing an individual’s iris patterns, fingerprints, facial information, and scars. Eventually, it could include other parameters such as how people walk and talk. The idea is that the government could use this system to catch the bad guys. The reality is that it can be used against anyone the government wishes to identify and follow. It would be available to authorized users which would include some 900,000 state, federal, and local law enforcement officials. It would be connected to the Terrorist Screening Center (see item 116) as well as the FBI’s own National Crime Information Center. Like a lot of these programs, it has its gee whiz selling points: being able to capture iris patterns at 15 feet or identifying a face at 200 yards. Getting such features to actually work, however, often doesn’t happen but can be incredibly expensive and lead to vast cost overruns, something this program seems almost designed to do. It also overlooks how laughably antiquated most of the FBI’s current computer systems are. But there is a more fundamental question which all these databases raise.
Will they catch terrorists? The answer is a few perhaps. The NGI is essentially a confirmatory system. Technical problems aside, it works if you already know who you are looking for and that person has been scanned and conveniently walks before another scanner for you. It also works if you have someone already in custody and you query the system and get lucky. But it won’t identify high level targets because Osama bin Laden is unlikely to oblige the FBI by walking through an American airport. Nor will it identify those involved in another terrorist attack on this country because they will be chosen from those who have not been scanned or whose links to terrorism are unknown. As it is, the system is far more likely to be used as an expensive adjunct to current fingerprint records in criminal cases in this country.