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On The Front Lines

TRI Denounces Efforts to Exempt Government NGI Biometric Database From Privacy Laws Aimed at Protecting Citizens

WASHINGTON, D.C. —Warning against efforts by the FBI and Justice Department to acquire near-limitless power and control over biometric information collected on law-abiding individuals, millions of whom have never been accused of a crime, The Rutherford Institute has denounced an attempt to exempt the government’s massive biometric database from a federal law aimed at protecting Americans’ privacy. In a comment submitted to the Department of Justice in response to the agency’s attempt to exempt the Next Generation Information Database (NGID) from the Privacy Act, John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, points out that exempting the NGID from the Privacy Act, which is meant to prevent the misuse of records the federal government keeps on individuals by giving them the right to examine those records, severely undermines the Act and could leave citizens without any possible means of recourse should their privacy rights be violated.

“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,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “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. 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.”

Launched in 2008, the Next Generation Information Database 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, including millions of people who have never committed or even been accused of a crime. In May 2016, the DOJ quietly announced that it was proposing a rule to exempt the entire NGID from the Privacy Act. If adopted, 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 information stored in the NGID is being amassed through a variety of routine procedures, with the police leading the way as prime collectors of biometrics for something as non-threatening as a simple moving violation. Police departments across the country are now being equipped with the facial recognition systems that allows officers patrolling the streets to scan the irises and faces of individuals and match them against government databases. The nation’s courts are also doing their part to “build” the database, requiring biometric information as a precursor to more lenient sentences.