UPDATED: Don’t Exempt Biometric Database from Privacy Protections, Groups Tell FBI

UPDATE: On June 23, many of the same organizations requested Congressional leaders to conduct hearings into the FBI’s use of the advanced surveillance technologies contained in Next Generation Identification (or NGI) system and the agency’s plans to exempt its proposed rules from the Privacy Act.

ORIGINAL POST (June 1): A coalition of 45 civil rights, human rights, immigrant rights, privacy, and transparency organizations and companies joined The Constitution Project in expressing concerns about the FBI’s proposal to exempt its massive national database of fingerprints and facial photos from the Privacy Act. The groups asked the Department of Justice for more time to review the proposed rules for the database, which is called the Next Generation Identification (or NGI) system.

“The NGI system uses some of the most advanced surveillance technologies known to humankind, including facial recognition, iris scans, and fingerprint recognition. It runs on a database holding records on millions of Americans, including millions who have never been accused of a crime,” the coalition wrote in a May 27 letter to DoJ’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Office.

The letter notes that research indicates some of the biometrics used in the NGI, especially facial recognition, are more likely to misidentify African Americans, young people, and women at higher rates than whites, older people, and men.

The proposed rules, published in May in the Federal Register, would exempt the FBI from Privacy Act provisions that would let people find out whether they are in the NGI database, and whether their profile has been shared with other parts of the government. The rules would also prevent people from using the Privacy Act to ensure the government corrects information in the database that is erroneous. The Privacy Act was enacted in 1974 to ensure that individuals have an enforceable right to know the records that the government keeps about their activities.

“The FBI waited over half a decade to publish a basic privacy notice about NGI. Now, the American people have 21 business days to comment on that system – and the FBI’s request to make most of it secret. This is far too little time,” the groups argued. In response to their concerns, the Justice Department extended the comment period to July 6.

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