This is not your father’s data base!
The FBI claims that their fingerprint database (IAFIS) is the “largest biometric database in the world,” containing records for over a hundred million people. But that’s nothing compared to the agency’s plans for Next Generation Identification (NGI), a massive, billion-dollar upgrade that will hold iris scans, photos searchable with face recognition technology, palm prints, and measures of gait and voice recordings alongside records of fingerprints, scars, and tattoos.
Ambitions for the final product are candidly spelled out in an agency report: “The FBI recognizes
a need to collect as much biometric data as possible within information technology systems, and to make this information accessible to all levels of law enforcement, including International agencies.” (A stack of documents related to NGI was obtained by the Center for Constitutional Rights and others after a FOIA lawsuit.)
It’ll be “Bigger — Better — Faster,” the FBI brags on their Web site. Unsurprisingly, civil libertarians have concerns about the privacy ramifications of a bigger, better, faster way to track Americans using their body parts.
This is a huge decrease in personal privacy. We will never get back what we have lost. The new system will include the following.
1. Face Recognition
The problem with that, civil libertarians point out, is that anyone’s picture can end up in the database, regardless of whether or not they’ve committed a crime. Mug shots get snapped when people are arrested, and unlike a fingerprint — which requires either arrest or consent to a background check — a face could potentially be captured and fed into a database from anywhere.”Anybody walking around could potentially be entered,” Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, tells AlterNet. “Just the fact that those images can be taken surreptitiously raises concerns. If someone takes your fingerprints, you know. But in the face recognition context, it’s possible for law enforcement to collect that data without knowledge.” The millions of private and public security cameras all over the country would certainly provide a fruitful source for images, Lynch points out.
2. Iris Scans
Iris-scanning technology is the centerpiece of the second-to-last stage in the roll-out of NGI (scheduled for sometime before 2014). Iris scans offer up several advantages to law enforcement, both in terms of identifying people and fattening up databases. . . .
3. Rap-Back System
A lot of the action in the FBI’s fingerprint database is in background checks for job applicants applying to industries that vet for criminal history, like taking care of the elderly or children, hospital work, and strangely, being a horse jockey in Michigan. As Cari Athens, writing for the Michigan Telecommunications and Law Review points out, if a job applicant checks out, the FBI either destroys the prints or returns them to the employer. But that’s no fun if the goal is to collect vast amounts of biometric data!
Through the “Rap-Back” system, the FBI will offer employers another option: the agency is willing to keep the fingerprints in order to alert the employer if their new hire has run-ins with the law at any point in the future. . . .
4. Data Sharing Between Agencies
The roll-out of NGI advances another goal: breaking down barriers between databases operated by different agencies. One of the directives of the billion-dollar project is to grease information swapping between the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Defense. The DOJ and DHS have worked toward “interoperatibility” between their databases for years. In 2009, the Department of Defense and DOJ also signed on to an agreement to share biometric information. . . .
A DHS powerpoint about Secure Communities promises that “Under NGI, law enforcement agencies will have the option to search multiple repositories.” FBI reports detail how NGI will promote smoother swapping of more and more detailed biometric information: “NGI will increase
information processing and sharing needs of the more than 18,000 local, state, federal, and international agencies who are our customers.” It’s not clear which international agencies will be able to tap into NGI. . . .
5. NGI and Secure Communities (S-Comm)
One recent test run in interagency data-sharing has not gone particularly well: Secure Communities, a DHS program that lets local law enforcement officials run the fingerprints of people booked in jails against the IDENT database to check their immigration status and tip off ICE to undocumented immigrants.
Like many policies targeting America’s immigrant population, Secure Communities (S-Comm) — pitched as protection against violent criminals — devolved into dragnets and mass deportations, with people getting dragged in for minor offenses like missing business permits and even for reporting crimes. In one incident a woman called the police about a domestic violence incident, only to be ensnared in deportation proceedings herself. As Marie Diamond points out in Think Progress, DHS’s immigration databases have so many errors that the program “routinely flags citizens as undocumented immigrants.” . . .
What could possibly go wrong?
Advancements in the collection of biometric data are double-edged: there’s the threat of a massive government surveillance infrastructure working too well — e.g., surveillance state — and there are concerns about its weaknesses, especially in keeping data secure.
There’s more. Read the whole article.