The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has sued the FBI to obtain what it called “a secret agreement with the Department of Defense” about “Next Generation Identification,” a biometric database containing detailed personal information on millions of Americans.
The Washington, D.C.-based civil liberties organization described “Next Generation Identification” as one of the largest biometric databases in the world with digitized fingerprints, facial scans, and iris images on millions of Americans.
According to EPIC, the FBI has removed privacy safeguards even as the FBI has expanded the system. “The FBI Director has shown a ‘reckless disregard’ for the privacy rights of Americans,” said Marc Rotenberg, President of EPIC.
“Operating in secret, Director Comey has built a massive biometric database that places the privacy of all Americans at risk. And he has removed Privacy Act safeguards intended to ensure accuracy and accountability for the record system,” said Rotenberg.
In a previous FOIA lawsuit against the FBI, EPIC obtained documents which revealed that the FBI allows for an error rate of 20% in face recognition matches, said EPIC.
“The FBI biometric database raises significant privacy risks for Americans. Instead of fixing these problems and following the law, the Bureau has chosen instead to expand the program and remove barriers to data collection,” Jeramie Scott, Director of the EPIC Domestic Surveillance Project, said.
Over the objections of EPIC and many organizations across the country, the FBI exempted itself from legal requirements for accuracy, relevancy, and transparency. EPIC said at the time, “Increasingly, the FBI is collecting information, including biometric information, for non-criminal reasons and keeping that data well beyond the original need for collection.” EPIC urged the FBI to comply with the federal law and limit data collection.
Earlier this year, the FBI proposed the exemption of the Next Generation Identification database from the Privacy Act—legislation that requires federal agencies collecting information on individuals to allow the subjects to request to know what information is being collected and verify that information if required.