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Smile: the FBI agent scanning your photo might appreciate it

Your photos are open for scrutiny to a far larger viewing audience than you likely realize.

And here's why: The FBI has a special department that focuses solely on the gathering and analysis of faces and their identifying characteristics. Your mom might just love what she has always regarded as a cute little birth mark on your cheek. So, too, might an FBI agent sitting before a computer screen in a restricted area who regards it as an exceedingly helpful mark for identification purposes.

You're not alone. A recent national media piece underscoring troubling implications of the government's facial-recognition program notes that the initiative -- termed FACE, which equates to Facial Analysis, Comparison and Evaluation -- is a truly vast endeavor. Reportedly, criminal investigators have instant access to about 412 million facial images, with that number growing.

Here's an obvious question associated with that reality: What do they intend to do with them?

The answer is actually quite obvious, isn't it? Law enforcers will certainly use such photos to spotlight select individuals and to further investigate them for alleged illegal conduct.

A recent report authored by the Government Accountability Office ( a federal watchdog group) has a problem with FACE.

Several, actually. The GAO states that the program is operating without the general public having enough information concerning its parameters and uses. The federal Privacy Act mandates that federal enforcers divulge certain data about the program, which they have apparently not done.

Moreover, notes the GAO, the public has not gleaned enough knowledge to know whether the technologies underlying facial recognition and analysis are sufficiently accurate.

The expressed concerns of U.S. Sen. Al Franken (Minnesota) led to the GAO probe. Franken states that, while FACE "holds great promise for law enforcement," it also has the potential for implicating innocent individuals in criminal probes.

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