Northrop Grumman shareholders demand rights report over DHS biometric database contract

Northrop Grumman shareholders demand rights report over DHS biometric database contract

A group of shareholders are planning to challenge Northrop Grumman leadership over the human rights implications of its lucrative new contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Northrop Grumman won the $95 million, 42-month contract for the first two development stages of the OBIM’s new Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) biometric database. The Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment (Tri-CRI) filed a shareholder resolution in November, following failed discussions with management, the EFF says.

Tri-CRI notes in the shareholder resolution that corporations have human rights responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), and that U.S. government sales made up 85 percent of Northrop Grumman of its 2017 sales. The group expresses concerns that HART may be used with algorithms that have inherent racial bias, and echoes an EFF warning that it could have a chilling effect on democratic freedoms.

“The HART database will amplify the surveillance capabilities of government agencies, presenting risks to privacy and First Amendment rights and causing harm to immigrant communities,” Tri-CRI writes in the resolution. “Through the provision of services through the DHS contract, Northrop Grumman may be linked or contribute to these adverse human rights impacts.”

The group also says that Northrop Grumman does not disclose how its Human Rights Policy is operationalized to reduce the risk of adverse impacts.

“Investors are unable to assess how Northrop Grumman embeds respect for human rights into the process for vetting and implementing contracts with the U.S. Government or foreign governments, or the effectiveness of any systems which may be in place to prevent or mitigate human rights risks.”

The shareholders are requesting that the company’s Board of Directors prepare a report on its management systems and Human Rights Policy implementation processes.

Voting on the resolution will take place May 15.

OBIM Identity Operations Division Director Patrick Nemeth told Biometric Update that there are necessarily a lot of constraints on DHS’ biometrics agency, as stewards of the data.

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