The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is attempting to make sure that the biometric information on tens of millions of Americans will not be protected by the Privacy Act of 1974.
The plan by the DOJ to exempt the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) “Next Generation Identification Database” (NGID) from the Privacy Act will permit federal agents to set up records of Americans’ political activities, according to WND.
The exemption allows citizens to gain access to personal information held by the government.
“[The exemption from the Privacy Act of 1974] sets up near-limitless power and control that would be granted the DOJ over information collected on law-abiding individuals,” the Rutherford Institute reports.
Adding to the alarm of many privacy advocates and civil rights groups, a warning has been issued about the consequences of the controversial exemption.
“[Under the announced plan, the FBI could create] databases about the political activities of … citizens,” the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) reportedly alerted Americans.
Wrong through and through
The very nature of the NGID system is what worries many who highly regard their privacy and security as Americans.
“[The NGID is] a massive biometric database that contains more than 100 million fingerprints and 45 million facial photos gathered from a variety of sources ranging from criminal suspects and convicts to daycare workers and visa applicants,” the Rutherford Institute described the system. “[The NGID would include millions of people] who have never committed or even been accused of a crime.”
The database gives the feds access to information many would think would be only attainable by those conducting crime scene investigations of serial killers as seen on popular television programs.
“The system, in addition to fingerprints and mug shots, also includes iris scans, DNA profiles, voice identification profiles and palm prints,” WND’s Bob Unruh reports. “The system has been in development for years, but the DOJ has ‘quietly’ proposed to ‘exempt the entire NGID’ from the public access requirements.”
This kind of permission to records reportedly has a number of dire consequences.
“The exemptions would prevent Americans from knowing whether they are in the biometric database, hinder their efforts to ensure that any information stored on them is accurate, and could inhibit their ability to sue for violations of their privacy rights,” the Rutherford Institute explained in a statement.
Because of many responses to the exemption that were submitted to the DOJ by groups championing privacy, it has now endeavored to go through the formal public notification process — something many believe is long overdue.
Rutherford President John W. Whitehead argues that the DOJ’s plan brings about many problems.
“[Exempting the NGID from the Privacy Act] severely undermines the act and could leave citizens without any possible means of recourse should their privacy rights be violated,” Whitehead explains. “Going far beyond the scope of those with criminal backgrounds, the FBI’s Next Generation Identification database includes criminals and non-criminals alike — in other words, innocent American citizens.”
He says this is just another power grab by big government that will snowball as technology advances.
“With technology moving so fast and assaults on our freedoms, privacy and otherwise, occurring with increasing frequency, there is little hope of turning back this technological, corporate and governmental juggernaut, let alone avoiding inclusion in the government’s massive identification database,” Whitehead continued. “Even so, the DOJ should be working to ensure that every safeguard is in place to protect citizen privacy rather than attempting to undermine longstanding privacy protections in a bid to amass more power for itself and its fellow government agencies.”
A concerted effort against the exemption
A coalition of “civil rights, privacy and transparency groups,” including EPIC, is protesting the DOJ’s plan, through a letter it sent to Erika Lee of the DOJ’s Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties. In it, they inform her that an investigation has found that thousands of Americans lose their jobs every year because “inaccurate or out-of-date” information held by the government was accessed through employers’ background checks.
It was also noted that the FBI has declined to submit a report on its impact on privacy —even though federal law requires it to do so. This is also in spite of state police departments’ implementation of facial recognition searches — a process that was started five years ago by law enforcement agencies.
Other deficiencies were clearly stated by the coalition.
“The Privacy Act was enacted to ensure that individuals had an enforceable right to know the records that the government keeps about their activities,” EPIC and the other groups informed. “While there may be legitimate reasons for exemption some law enforcement activities from some of the act’s provisions, exemptions must not render the act meaningless. This is an extraordinarily broad proposal, and the system it affects is extraordinarily sensitive — particularly for the communities it may affect the most.”
Both conservative and liberal organizations have joined EPIC’s effort fighting to ensure liberty for Americans. Some of the groups include: Consumer Watchdog, the ACLU, The Constitution Project, Amnesty International, Constitutional Alliance, Electronic Frontier Foundation, La Raza, Lyft, Center for Digital Democracy and the American Library Association.
Also stressing contesting the exemption — through an individual letter to Lee — the Rutherford Institute impressed the fact that the Privacy Act of 1974 was initially intended to balance the government’s need to hold onto personal data with the individual rights of citizens to have their information protected from the “unwarranted invasions of their privacy” by the feds.
It was also pointed out that new advances in science and technology open up a Pandora’s Box of problems.
“It is unknown how often the facial recognition system produces false matches, or whether information has been improperly catalogued,” the Institute insisted. “As such, records held by the agency may contain errors whose correction would be necessary to promote the interests of justice.”