By Nicholas West
The FBI’s Next Generation Identification Biometrics Database went live nationwide in 2014 without much fanfare from the general public. Naturally, establishment media wasn’t there to give attention to the massive endeavor, even though from its inception it threatened the privacy of every single American.
With only dedicated civil liberties advocates trying to bring attention to the threat, the system quickly amassed more than 50 million images scoured from facial recognition alone and, as reported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, merged into the FBI’s legacy database of fingerprints and other identifiers to create a centralized hub of surveillance:
NGI builds on the FBI’s legacy fingerprint database—which already contains well over 100 million individual records—and has been designed to include multiple forms of biometric data, including palm prints and iris scans in addition to fingerprints and face recognition data. NGI combines all these forms of data in each individual’s file, linking them to personal and biographic data like name, home address, ID number, immigration status, age, race, etc. This immense database is shared with other federal agencies and with the approximately 18,000 tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States.
Over the ensuing years, the prevalence of biometrics has only increased in everything from banking, to drones, to student IDs, to facial recognition billboards in public space, to voice recognition security. At this point it is unclear just how many biometric images might be stored in the database now that there are even more sources from which to cull data. And the FBI is would like to keep it that way….
Apparently, the tired trope of National Security is once again being peddled to legitimize secrecy and violating civil liberties. Similar to the no-fly list, where people have no idea if they are on it; or, if so, how to get off it, the FBI is proposing that citizens who have had their biometric data collected might not be entitled to know anything about it:
Letting individuals view their own records, or even the accounting of those records, could compromise criminal investigations or “national security efforts,” potentially revealing a “sensitive investigative technique” or information that could help a subject “avoid detection or apprehension,” the draft posting said.
Worst of all, since its inception the FBI has admitted that the system includes non-criminal identification as well as criminal.
- suspects and detainees,
- fingerprints for job applicants
- military or volunteer service
- background checks
- security clearances
In short, anything not covered above most assuredly will be once biometrics itself spreads into every area of human life.
And for those who might still be inclined to believe that this will only be used when national security truly is threatened, it would be wise to remember how anti-terror technologies trickle down to the lowliest of “crimes” and beyond – like using Stingray cell phone surveillance to catch a $50 chicken wing thief.
But perhaps most concerning of all is the admission that the collected data will be put on the shelf for future analysis in order to establish potential connections. Considering how the web of human interaction can lead to narrowing the degrees of separation between any two individuals, this is almost guaranteed to ensnare the completely innocent:
“With time, seemingly irrelevant or untimely information may acquire new significance when new details are brought to light,” the posting said. Information contained in the database could help with “establishing patterns of activity and providing criminal lead.”
Let’s not forget that it was these so-called “patterns of activity” which led a large percentage of innocent people to be swept up into the post-9/11 torture apparatus which is still being justified as a necessary National Security measure. Under this reasoning, nearly everyone could be detained – in reality, or virtually – as a possible suspect in a possible future crime.
More attention needs to be given to this incredible slide toward a technocratic system of being guilty until proven innocent, completely upturning all protections supposed to be guaranteed to each American.
According to NextGov this proposal will be open for public comment for one month after it’s officially posted. The fact that a system which has been years, possibly decades, in the making should offer citizens a mere month to weigh in should say enough about what we are dealing with.
Please follow NextGov, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, EPIC, and Activist Post for the latest, as civil liberties advocates attempt to demand that this system is fully revealed to the public. Share this information with friends and family to ensure that we have the best chance possible at resisting this digital tyranny.
FBI’s biometrics information can be found here.
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