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EFF sounds alarm over the DHS HART biometric database


The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) database will likely become the largest repository of biometric and biographic data on citizens and foreigners in the country, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The database will include multiple biometrics, including face images and DNA data, as well as “data from questionable sources, and highly personal data on innocent people,” EFF says in an article highly critical of the agency’s practices. EFF also expresses concern that HART will impinge on First Amendment rights to free speech, and will include inaccurate data or provide inaccurate identity matching.

The EFF repeats warnings that real-time facial recognition enables tracking of citizens, including at lawful protests, and says that DHS is planning to collect information on people’s “relationship patterns.” It notes that the IDENT fingerprint database includes records for 220 million people, and says databases managed by DHS hold a combined total of more than 10 billion biographic records, with 10 to 15 million more added each week. HART will include seven types of identifiers the EFF refers to as biometric, including face, voice, and DNA data, as well as information on scars and tattoos, and a general category for “other modalities.”

The article reviews some recent controversies relating to data privacy. It also notes that Senators Markey and Lee urged DHS to delay the rollout of its biometric exit program while its rules are clarified, and the Inspector General of DHS criticized the agency’s biometrics training and reliance on third parties to verify the identity of people leaving the country. DHS’ Office of the Inspector General is currently investigating the effectiveness of the biometric exit program.

“DHS needs to end its plans to use its HART database to collect even more biometric and biographic information about U.S. citizens and foreigners,” EFF Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch writes in the article. “This system poses a very real threat to First Amendment-protected activities. Further, DHS has a well-documented history of poor data management, and face recognition has a high rate of misidentifications. Congress must step in with more oversight and act now to put the brakes on DHS’s broad expansion of data collection.”

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