Report: Biometric Data Collection And Database Sharing Poses Serious Privacy Concerns

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) takes approximately 300,000 fingerprints per day from non-U.S. citizens crossing the border into the U.S. and collects biometrics from noncitizens applying for immigration. A report from the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) and the Immigration Policy Center (IPC), both policy research foundations, warns that DHS biometric databases — which are increasingly interconnected with biometric data collected by state and local law enforcement officers who regularly collect fingerprints — DNA and even face prints and iris scans of people booked into local jails, could raise serious privacy concerns.

“Some people believe biometrics and databases are the silver-bullets that will solve the immigrant enforcement dilemma. But biometrics are not infallible, and databases contain errors. These problems can result in huge negative consequences for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants mistakenly identified,” said Michele Waslin, Senior Policy Analyst at the IPC.

“Biometric data collection can lead to racial profiling and can disproportionately affect immigrants,” said EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. “It also gives the government a new way to find and track people throughout the United States.”

The EFF and IPC are urging the U.S. government to curb potential racial profiling and discrimination against immigrants by limiting unnecessary biometric collection and addressing the privacy issues that arise from growing and increasingly interconnected biometric databases.

Police use of biometrics has already emerged as a contentious political issue in New York. Earlier this month, the Obama administration expanded the Secure Communities Program, a federal fingerprinting program to identify illegal immigrants in Massachusetts and New York. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo objected to the program. “There are concerns about the implementation of the program as well as its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York,” wrote New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in a letter to DHS. “As a result, New York is suspending its participation in the program.”

While most Americans haven’t yet encountered law enforcement’s increasing use of biometrics data collection and biometrics databases, the Los Angeles Police Department are already using handheld devices to scan the fingerprints of day laborers standing on street corners who are not suspected of any criminal activity.

“While most of us would be really suspect if a police officer randomly asked us to submit to a fingerprint scan on the street,” Lynch told New America Media. “When you feel like you have little voice in society and you lack power to challenge authority, I think harassment like this is a big issue.”