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The NSA has collected millions of facial images from across the web

The NSA isn’t just interested in pure communications intelligence like call records; it wants to look for faces, too. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal that the NSA has been using facial recognition software to scan the internet for portraits and match them with investigative data. The agency can determine whether or not a suspect spotted in a photo or video chat has a valid passport, for example, or find out if informants have said anything about that person. It can even spot subtle change and link photos to satellite info to pinpoint someone’s whereabouts. 

The National Security Agency is harvesting huge numbers of images of people from communications that it intercepts through its global surveillance operations for use in sophisticated facial recognition programs, according to top-secret documents. 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, video conferences 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.

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