Today, OpenTheGovernment.org submitted comments -- endorsed by civil rights, human rights, immigrant rights, privacy and transparency organizations -- to the Department of Justice about proposed Privacy Act exemptions to the FBI’s biometrics database – the Next Generation Identification (NGI) system. The comments oppose the FBI proposal to exempt the NGI system from virtually every key provision of the Privacy Act. The comments call for stronger privacy and transparency measures for the FBI’s NGI system, and oppose the FBI’s proposal to weaken existing protections.
The comments highlight 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 indicates that agencies shall "maintain no record describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment unless expressly authorized" in specific circumstances (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.
The secrecy surrounding the FBI’s largest domestic database is an area of serious concern for open government groups and civil rights advocates alike. There is a need for greater transparency about the FBI NGI system, and the public has a right to the protections and redress afforded by the Privacy Act. OTG, along with the 18 endorsing organizations that submitted the comments today, strongly object any measure that would deprive the public of these crucial protections.
On June 23, OTG also joined a coalition of organizations in calling on members of Congress to hold an oversight hearing to assess the privacy, civil liberties, and human rights issues raised by the FBI’s NGI system, noting that need for closer scrutiny and proper public oversight for the FBI’s use of facial recognition technology.
Read the comments here.
The comments were endorsed by:
American Library Association
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Campaign for Accountability
Cause of Action Institute
Center for Media and Democracy
Defending Dissent Foundation
Free Speech Coalition
Government Accountability Project
National Immigration Law Center
National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild
National Security Archive
National Security Counselors
Project On Government Oversight
Additional information on the FBI biometrics database: