EFF, MuckRock conduct census of how police deploy mobile biometric technologies

August 6, 2015 - 

EFF and MuckRock have partnered to conduct a census of sorts, via public records requests, in an effort to compile a central list that shows which police agencies throughout the country have mobile biometric identification devices, as well as a set of guidelines for how they should be used.

The “Street Level Surveillance” initiative is intended to provide greater transparency into which biometric technologies police are using, how they are using them, how accurate they are, and what policies are in place to protect public rights.

The organizations are looking for five specific types of mobile biometric technologies, including fingerprint/thumbprint collection, facial recognition, scans of the iris or other elements of the human eye, rapid DNA analysis, and tattoo recognition.

The initiative offers three options for participating in the census to crowdsource public records.

The first option is to fill out a form on the EFF page and naming the agency that they would like the groups to investigate. Users can also choose to remain anonymous.

Filling out the form generates a legally binding public records request that is customized to the jurisdiction specified by the signer.

The second option is for the participant to use their own automated system. The easiest solution is to create an account on MuckRock and “clone” one of the requests the groups have already filed, which would mean the participant would have to duplicate the request language the groups have already used, but substituting their own local law enforcement.

Although MuckRock is a paid service, there is also a free option that allows participants to use the initiative’s pre-written public-records language with other services, such as FOIA Machine or the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’ iFOIA.

Finally, participants can choose to file records requests on their own letterhead and submit them by mail, using the initiative’s supplied template text to generate their own records request.

Participants should specify which group they are targeting and share the records they receive in response with MuckRock and EFF.

The organizations provided an example of a request for the Boston Police Department, which noted, among other things, that the total number of individuals whose biometric data has been collected over the last three years, the total number of biometric data points contained in the agency’s database, the retention period for biometric data, the number of mobile biometrics devices purchased and in use, the total number of authorized users of the mobile biometrics devices, which external agencies and entities have access to biometric data in the database and under what conditions, whether biometric data is combined with biographic data such as name and address in the database, and the process by which data is entered into the database.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.