LA County Sheriff’s Department to launch biometric ID system with little discussion

According to a NBC television report produced in conjunction with the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is quietly rolling out a high-tech biometric identification system.

The new system that the department will ultimately roll out will be the largest law enforcement repository outside of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and will augment the FBI’s Next Generation Biometric Identification Program.

The FBI program adds new biometric modalities, which include voice, iris and facial recognition, to existing fingerprint databases. As reported recently by BiometricUpdate.com, the FBI says its biometric identification database is now fully operational. Now local law enforcement agencies across the U.S., including the Sheriffs’ Department, are working to integrate their systems with the new federal database.

According to the news report, the new system will be able to capture the fingerprints, mug shots, iris scans, and palm prints of over 15 million people.

Privacy and civil liberties groups are concerned because there has been little public discussion surrounding the privacy implications of the roll-out. The ACLU of Southern California is concerned about the new system’s capability to track people who have not been prosecuted or convicted of a crime.

The ACLU has called for a public discussion that leads to a clear policy about the implementation of such a program. Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California said in the report: “We should have a conversation whether new technologies such as these have privacy costs that are too great.”

Another concern the news report emphasizes is security. As more companies and security agencies gain access to this personal data, the possibility of identity theft increases. Further, the new system will store such data indefinitely. Privacy and civil liberties groups have also raised concerns that county officials will not disclose either the projected cost of the project or which firms are participating in deploying the new database.

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