FBI Finds Itself In Court for Refusing To Release Biometeric Data in Accordance With US Law – US Privacy Act

Current law mandates police and federal agencies who have obtained biometeric data on United States citizens to disclose this information, as well as how the data is used, to the citizens from which this information has been collected. However the FBI, in conjunction with the US Department of Justice, is proposing new legislation that will lift these mandates – essentially granting the FBI immunity from the requirements set forth under the Privacy Act.

The FBI is claiming their secret database of biometric data should be protected from the US Privacy Act in the name of national security. In an open letter published on May 5, 2016, the DOJ writes “the FBI proposes to exempt this system [of disclosing data] from certain provisions of the Privacy Act in order to prevent interference with the FBI’s mission to detect, deter, and prosecute crimes and to protect the national security, which includes the use of criminal history record information and biometric identifiers.

The letter goes on to cite seven reasons why the agency should be exempt. First, they do not want citizens to know if the government has personal information on them; if citizens were specifically aware of what this information was it may “permit the record subject with the opportunity to evade or impede the investigation” – should someone potentially commit a crime some day. The FBI goes on to argue that provision requiring the agency to disclose records could “present a serious impediment to the FBI’s responsibilities to detect, deter, and prosecute crimes and to protect the national security.” Basically, their logic is that if you know what information the government has on you, you may know how to evade, or beat the system. The FBI doesn’t want to give anyone that opportunity.

Second, the FBI is opposed to the added accounting cost it would take to release, mail and inform tens of millions of people about these records. Third, the agency goes on to say there is too much data on each individual, which makes it impossible to determine “what information is relevant and necessary for law enforcement purposes,” and what is not. If you think I am stretching these quotes, I am not. The letter specifically says “it is impossible to determine in advance what information is accurate, relevant, timely and complete.

Furthermore, the FBI is unsure how to divide all the data to adequately comply with Privacy Act laws. They are asking to be completely exempt from the laws altogether, to avoid this dilemma.  Lastly, the FBI says they are opposed to disclosing the information because doing so may expose the process and methodology used to obtain the information in the first place. The FBI argues this could undermine their ability to collect information and fight crime in the future.

Though these examples are logical on the surface, the whole ordeal is a bit curious. You see, the overwhelming majority of data collected and stored within the database comprises of federal employees and  law abiding citizens – not criminals. It appears as though the FBI is once again trying to play the ‘terrorism and national security’ card as justification to excuse/cover up their illegal and immoral actions.

According to Softpedia, “The database doesn’t include only information on people that committed crimes. NGIS also includes details from people that had at one point in time their fingerprint or iris scanned for jobs, security clearances, or licenses. Practically, any person that has ever served in the military, as a volunteer, applied for a government-paid job, or interacted with the government for naturalization, documents, and other processes is already in the database.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, of the 320 million citizens living in the United States, the FBI has already successfully collected biometric data on 52 million citizens to date. Reports by the San Diego Union Tribune go on to reveal how the FBI is attempting to expand on data collection, utilizing sources such as ancestry.com and 23andme. Biometric data is classified, as iris scans, facial recognition, behavioral tendencies, DNA, fingerprints, et cetera


This article (FBI Finds Itself In Court for Refusing To Release Biometeric Data in Accordance With US Law – US Privacy Act) is a free and open source. You have permission to republish this article using a creative commons license with attribution to Brian Dunn and Alternative Medi4



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