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Privacy group EFF pens letter opposing border surveillance bill


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) penned a letter to the federal government in opposition of a new federal bill that would significantly expand biometrics collection and other surveillance of both American citizens and immigrants at and near the U.S. border, following Sen. Cornyn’s (R-TX) introduction of S. 1757 (Building America’s Trust Act) in August.

The group’s letter objects to several provisions of the bill, starting with a provision that would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to collect biometric information from all people who exit the country, including U.S. and foreign citizens.

EFF explains that this would further reinforce and expand DHS’s existing program of facial recognition of all international travelers taking certain outgoing flights from U.S. airports.

The organization said that it is against this level of biometric border screening because of the sensitivity of biometric information, the threat it will be stolen or misused, and the risk of mission creep.

EFF is also opposes to the Collection of Immigrants’ DNA, a bill which would require DHS to collect DNA and other biometric information from “any individual filing an application, petition, or other request for immigration benefit or status.”

The group has long opposed dragnet biometric surveillance of immigrants, particularly because DNA can expose sensitive information about familial history and health issues.

The Dissemination of Immigrants’ Biometrics bill would require DHS to share its biometric information about immigrants with the FBI, the Defense Department, and the State Department, as well as store the voiceprints and iris scans of immigrants in a manner compatible with state and local law enforcement database.

EFF said it opposes this bill because greater distribution results in greater risks of theft, employee misuse, and mission creep.

In regards to the Screening Social Media of Visa Applicants provision, the bill would require DHS to review the social media accounts of visa applicants from “high risk countries.”

The organization opposes existing DHS and State Department programs of screening social media of foreign visitors because they threaten the digital privacy and free speech of innocent foreign travelers, as well as the many U.S. citizens who communicate with them.

EFF argues that the bill would further reinforce and expand these programs, not to mention that it is likely that the bill’s focus on “high risk countries” will lead to “extreme vetting” of visitors from Muslim nations.

The Drones Near the Border bill, which would require DHS and the Defense Department to deploy drones at the U.S. border, will capture the faces and license plates of the majority of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who reside close to the border.

Finally, the ALPRs Near the Border bill would allot $125 million to upgrade the automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) — which collect massive amounts of sensitive location information regarding identifiable law-abiding people — deployed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The organization opposes the bill because it believes that CBP should not track people’s movements simply because they live and work near the border.

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