State, local and federal cooperation – along with information-sharing – makes the entire system tick.

As you walk down a city street, you pass by a camera inconspicuously perched on top of a utility pole. Instantly, the device captures an image of your face and runs it against a database containing millions of photos. Within seconds, the system identifies you and logs your location. Should your name be flagged for any reason (or perhaps you resemble a miscreant) police immediately descend on you and haul you away.

This may sound like a scenario of of a George Orwell novel, but law enforcement agencies across the United States have already developed these kinds of surveillance systems, and facial recognition technology continues to proliferate rapidly. The implementation and expansion of face recognition systems often happen without any oversight or even public disclosure, creating the potential for the type of constant monitoring Big Brother only dreamed about.

The Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law recently released “The Perpetual Lineup,” a massive report on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology in the U.S. You can read the complete report at perpetuallineup.org. The organization conducted a year-long investigation and collected more than 15,000 pages of documents through more than 100 public records requests.The report paints a disturbing picture of intense cooperation between the federal government, and state and local law enforcement to develop a massive facial recognition database.

“Face recognition is a powerful technology that requires strict oversight. But those controls by and large don’t exist today,” report co-author Clare Garvie said. “With only a few exceptions, there are no laws governing police use of the technology, no standards ensuring its accuracy, and no systems checking for bias. It’s a wild west.”

According to the report, law enforcement face recognition networks include photos of more than 117 million adults. Many of the pictures enter the system when police take mugshots during booking after an arrest, but increasingly, police have access to photos of innocent people. Currently, at least 16 states allow the FBI to access their driver’s license and ID photos. Ubiquitous surveillance cameras in some cities. and automatic license plate reader cameras that capture photos of vehicle occupants along with plate numbers and location information also provide entry points into the system.

Once your photograph finds its way into one of these state, local or federal databases, law enforcement officers across the country can access it, putting you, along with millions of other Americans, in a perpetual photo lineup.

State, local and federal cooperation – along with information-sharing – makes the entire system tick.

The FBI maintains the largest facial recognition system in the country. Known as Next Generation Identification Interstate Photo System (NGI-IPS), it contains some 25 million state and federal criminal photos, mostly mugshots shared by state and local law enforcement agencies. Photos remain in the system even if a court never convicts the i