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January 17, 2010

FBI Turns Spanish Politician into “Older” Osama, via Digital Imaging

Filed under: Politics,Uncategorized — Laurie Morrow, Ph.D. @ 3:00 pm
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Perhaps your day hasn’t gone so well:  the dog woke you up two hours early, to alert you to the presence of a robin on the lawn.  You’ve been drafted into the army of the “Downsized.”  Your daughter switched her major from Computer Science to Fine Art.

But no matter how bad a day you’re having, chances are that Gaspar Llamazares is having a worse one.  A politician in Spain, Llamazares awoke one morning to find that the FBI had used his photo to illustrate what an “older”  Osama bin Laden might look like.

Bad enough for the FBI to officially pronounce you “older”-looking.   Geometrically worse to find your face identified as bin Laden’s and plastered across the globe.

Pete Cashmore tells the story of how this happened at Mashable.  Rather than start with an image of bin Laden or with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil, the FBI’s forensic artist found a photo on the internet of a man he/she did not recognize and digitally altered the image.  Suddenly, Llamazares is transformed from a politician hoping to be recognized by his constituents into America’s Most Wanted.  Llamazares now fears, quite reasonably, for his safety.

“Using photos from an image search to create a most wanted poster is surely putting the subject at risk, is it not?” Cashmore asks.

One also wonders whether this errant FBI employee also violated the law:  did he/she check the copyright of the image and obtain permission to make use of it?   How likely would the person holding the copyright be to grant such a request, if they knew the use to which their work would be put, and if they wished to continue doing business with Llamazares?

So maybe your day isn’t such a bad one, after all.  Maybe that robin your dog greeted was a harbinger of spring.  And you were home to enjoy it, after years of rushing out in the darkness to do a job you didn’t enjoy any more.  And maybe your fears are groundless, about your daughter being unemployable because she’s switched from Computer Science to Fine Art.  Looks like there’s going to be at least one opening for a forensic artist with computer skills — at the FBI.


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