Geektastic. NSA also collecting facial images in massive database.

I guess we can finally get past worrying about the NSA collecting all that meta-data about your phone calls, e-mails and text messages. That’s all so last decade. Now the government will just collect pictures of you and match them up to your name.

The National Security Agency intercepts “millions of images per day” for use in a previously-undisclosed facial recognition database, James Risen and Laura Poitras report in The New York Times, citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In addition to using faces to track and identify targets, one top-secret PowerPoint presentation released by the Times showed efforts to use other information unique to individuals, including iris scans, fingerprints, voices, and manner of walking.

By the time I’d read that far into the article I was waiting for Tom Cruise to show up, manipulating some holographic images over a scanner and zooming in on an extracted helix from their DNA. But is this invasive to the point of being illegal and a privacy concern?

I suppose that depends where they are getting them. The default seems to be that they are snagging pictures which individuals post on social media or perhaps images captured from security cameras in public areas. If so, it might be hard to argue with this. Privacy advocates have long treated the modern, web based world of communications in terms of the the Fourth Amendment. We shall be secure in our houses, papers and effects, and in the modern era, our e-mails are just today’s version of our papers. But we also know that once we step outside our door and into the public square, our expectation of privacy goes down dramatically. So isn’t social media essentially like the public square of the web based world? If you just stick some selfies out there, do you have any right to expect them not to be collected and stored? The same goes for images collected by cameras while you’re out and about.

We’ll need more details (assuming such exist) to know precisely what’s being stored here. But until then, it may not be worth getting overly worked up over this.