DOJ Seeks Privacy Act Exemptions for FBI's Extensive Biometric Database

The U.S. Department of Justice has proposed a new rule that would exempt the FBI Next Generation Identification system — purportedly the world’s largest biometric database — from key provisions of the Privacy Act. The information in the database goes far beyond mugshots and fingerprints of convicted criminals. It includes facial recognition imagery, palm prints and biographical information on everyday people who have undergone routine background checks, applied for welfare benefits or registered for immigration status. Not only that — the FBI is free to share this info with state and local agencies, private contractors and even foreign governments.

The rule change request opened a window for public comment, which has since been extended after 45 organizations signed onto a public letter expressing serious concerns.

FSRN’s Shannon Young spoke with Jeramie Scott, a national security attorney with the Electronic Privacy Information Center — EPIC — and director of its Domestic Surveillance Project.

Download Audio

Shannon Young: Can you you explain specifically what provisions of the Privacy Act the FBI is seeking to exempt its Next Generation Identification System from and what the implications would be for ordinary Americans?

Jeramie Scott: Sure. So, the FBI wants broad exemptions for NGI to avoid the Privacy Act requirements of accuracy, relevancy and necessity, accounting disclosures, individual access to records, and civil remedies. What that means is they’re not obligated to necessarily keep accurate records; they can collect whatever information they want, it doesn’t have to be relevant, it doesn’t have to be necessary. And they don’t have to allow individuals access to those records, so the individual can actually see whether the information kept by the FBI is accurate. And they want to exempt themselves for civil remedies. So, if the FBI ends up using inaccurate information which focuses their intention on you and disrupts your life, you no longer would…

Read more