Child sex offender trapped by FBI’s facial-recognition technology

Facial-recognition has nailed its first high profile fugitive after US law enforcement authorities detained a street performer wanted on child sex abuse charges.

Related: FBI to roll out facial-recognition database search

Neil Stammer, who travelled to Nepal eight years ago on a fake passport using the pseudonym Kevin Hodges, was caught after facial recognition software used by the FBI matched his passport photo to an FBI poster released back in January.

"With over 100 specially trained passport and visa fraud investigators in more than 65 countries around the world, Diplomatic Security works with our international and federal law enforcement partners to bring fugitives like Stammer home to face justice,” stated Barry Moore, deputy assistant secretary for domestic operations at the Diplomatic Secret Service [DSS].

Stammer’s case was opened back up when Russ Wilson was appointed as the new fugitive coordinator in the FBI’s Albuquerque Division and the sex offender’s case immediately “stood out”.

This meant the FBI produced the wanted poster and it’s now that the DSS came in. New facial recognition technology was being tested to try and uncover passport fraud, and a special agent went out on a whim by deciding to use the software on FBI wanted posters. It was now that Stammer’s poster matched a passport photo of someone with a different name – Hodges.

When the fraud was detected it pointed the FBI to Hodges in Nepal and showed that he was regularly using the US Embassy to renew a tourist visa and this eventually led to his detention.

The facial-recognition technology is part of a wider FBI effort to develop a database of images, fingerprints, iris scans and palm prints that form its Next Generation Identification programme.

Related: New facial recognition app could divulge your information against your will

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is concerned about the use of data from people without a convinction, stated that the database included around 16 million images in 2013 and could contain as many as 52 million by 2015.

Stammer is now awaiting trial in the US and won't be the last to be caught by the emerging technology.