Coalition calls for hearing on FBI’s use of facial recognition and proposal to exempt biometrics database from Privacy Act protections

Today, OpenTheGovernment.org is joining a coalition of civil rights, human rights, immigrant rights, privacy and transparency organizations, and companies calling on members of Congress to hold an oversight hearing to assess the privacy, civil liberties, and human right issues raised by the FBI’s massive biometric database– the Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, to require the FBI’s compliance with the protections provided by the Privacy Act of 1974, and to ensure ongoing public reports on the FBI’s collection, use, retention, and disclosure of biometric data. The letter notes that the last time NGI and biometrics were a predominant focus of a congressional hearing was in July 2012. Since then, the NGI has gone fully operational with minimal oversight.

Earlier this month, OTG joined a coalition of public interest organizations calling upon the DOJ to extend the public comment period for the FBI’s proposal to exempt NGI from many of the most important protections provided by the Privacy Act of 1974. Importantly, that letter emphasized that the FBI has asked to be exempt from the part of the law that lets citizens enforce any Privacy Act violation (5 U.S.C. § 552a(g)) – even violations of requirements from which the FBI is not exempt. For example, the Privacy Act generally bars the government from creating databases about the political activities of its citizens (5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(7)). Under the FBI’s proposal, the FBI could violate that rule – and private citizens could never take them to court.

Today’s letter also highlights a recent GAO report, which concluded that the FBI has not completed audits to oversee the use of its facial recognition programs, and determined that without conducting these audits, FBI officials “cannot be sure they are implementing face recognition capabilities in a manner that protects individuals’ privacy.” Further, GAO notes, the FBI has failed to provide timely updates to the public through Privacy Impact Assessments required by law – assessments that are essential to informing the public on how the FBI mitigates the privacy risks associated with its information systems.

“There is a growing coalition of privacy, civil rights, and open government organizations concerned about the FBI’s use of facial recognition technology, and their proposal to shield their biometrics database from oversight, accountability, and transparency,” according to Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org. “Stricter congressional oversight is critical to address these concerns and to ensure the public maintains the right to the protections and redress afforded by the Privacy Act.”

The coalition letter thanks Senators Grassley and Leahy, and Representatives Goodlatte, Chaffetz, and Conyers, Cummings for their continued oversight of the FBI’s programs that affect the privacy, civil liberties, and human rights of Americans and lawful permanent residents

Read the letter here.

Submitted by jfranzblau on 06/23/2016