Activists Counter FBI Trying to Exempt Its Database From Privacy Protection

Washington, DC (Sputnik) – After having spent eight years collecting sensitive biometric data on over 100 million Americans and assembling a huge database to contain it, the FBI has now announced that, in just 21 days, they will exempt this enormous bulk of information from the privacy protections guaranteed by US law.

A coalition of activists and privacy groups have submitted a joint letter to the agency seeking additional time to respond, requesting another month for public debate to decide if the Next Generation Identification (NGI) database is actually “designed to protect.”The NGI contains biometric data, including fingerprints, face profiles, iris scans, palm prints and biographical information. Contrary to the common belief that the information is solely related to arrest records, roughly half of the database is from ordinary citizens, official documents reveal.

For instance, to get a job with the federal government, a prospective employee must provide fingerprints. But some states require the same kind of background checks for those who seek to become dentists, accountants, or teachers. The fingerprints of representatives from many different careers then end up in the NGI system.

Last year, the FBI announced that it would combine into one system the records of convicted criminals alongside those of regular citizens who undergo simple background checks. Many raised questions regarding the possibility of crosstalk and error in such an enormous database.

The NGI’s face recognition system fails in 15 percent of cases, the FBI revealed, making the possibility of an innocent person being accused of a crime he didn’t commit all the more plausible.

 The FBI, according to research by the National Employment Law Project, falls short of updating information on final disposition of a case following an initial arrest some 50 percent of the time. Those arrested but found not guilty, or those arrested in error, can remain on a criminal list for the foreseeable future and, if the FBI can prevent citizens and researchers from examining the data, wrongful arrests could result in a potential lifetime of harassment. Given that a third of US arrests end with no charges or convictions, the scale of misrepresented data could be massive.The FBI has long concealed their purpose for the NGI system. The agency released a special document called “System of Records Notice,” required by law and aimed to explain the existence and utility of NGI but, according to security analysts, more questions were raised by the notice than answered.

This report prepared by Sputnik.