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Privacy Compromised by Sharing of Biometric Databases


U.S. citizen’s privacy can be compromised by sharing of biometric databases among law enforcements and security agencies. That was a warning posed by a report from the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) and the Immigration Policy Center (IPC), both policy research foundations. Concerns were raised as to the sharing of biometric databases between U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and those collected by state and local law enforcement officers from offenders.

DHS collects fingerprints from non-U.S. citizens who are either crossing the border as tourists or those applying for immigration. In fact, approximately 300,000 fingerprints are collected per day and stored in the DHS biometric databases, which are interconnected with those of the state and local law enforcement. Because of the interconnection of databases between these agencies, the privacy of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants are compromised especially on mistaken identity, which is feared by most.

“Some people believe biometrics and databases are the silver-bullets that will solve the immigrant enforcement dilemma. But biometrics are not infallible, and databases contain errors. These problems can result in huge negative consequences for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants mistakenly identified,” said Michele Waslin, Senior Policy Analyst at the IPC.

However, the sharing of biometric databases is not just limited between these agencies. It should be recalled that an article on DHS collecting children’s DNA showed the interconnections happening between the FBI with over 10.5 million DNA entries indexed in the system database, which all law enforcement agencies can access. The U.S. Marshalls and Drug Enforcement Administration have been collecting DNA from juvenile offenders as well, not to mention the statistics cited by Council for Responsible Genetics as to the number of states collecting DNA.

The EFF and IPC are asking the U.S. government to limit potential racial profiling and discrimination against immigrants by reducing biometric collection to what is necessary and to address the growing concern on the interconnection of these biometric databases. According to EFF Attorney Jennifer Lynch, it “gives the government a new way to find and track people throughout the U.S.”

The implementation of some fingerprinting programs has been expanded recently by the Obama administration with Secure Communities Program. Illegal immigrants in New York and Massachusetts are the targets of this program, which New York City has not participated because of uncertainty as to its implementation. The Los Angeles Police Department is also participating in indiscriminate fingerprinting of day laborers, even those idle on street corners unsuspected of any criminal activity.

Attorney Lynch summed it up well. “When you feel like you have little voice in society and you lack power to challenge authority, I think harassment like this is a big issue.”

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