DHS proposed biometrics collection expansion comment period ends with wave of criticism

WPF and ACLU among those urging step back
DHS proposed biometrics collection expansion comment period ends with wave of criticism

The World Privacy Forum and the American Civil Liberties Union are among groups calling on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to reconsider its proposed expansion of biometrics collection related to immigration checks.

The proposal would enable the use of facial recognition, iris and voice biometrics by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and DNA collection to verify family relationships.

DHS estimates that the new rules would result in just over 2.1 million extra biometric records being collected per year, but ACLU puts the number closer to 6 million, and says many of them will be below the age of 14.

“The administration must stop normalizing forced biometric collection and rescind the proposed rule immediately,” said ACLU Attorney Vera Eidelman in a statement.

The group also says the proposal “is out of all proportion to any legitimate government purpose.”

The World Privacy Forum argues that elements of the proposal, such as biometric collection from children and infants, “is scientifically questionable and fraught with ethical questions and problems.”

DHS also failed to consider in its proposal the demographic disparities in facial recognition accuracy noted by NIST, or the barriers the new rules would create for vulnerable populations.

WPF urges DHS to “take a step back” and institute a multi-stakeholder process to create ethical guidelines for the use of children’s biometrics, recommending a the use of an advisory service like the UK’s Biometric Forensics Ethics Group.

The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies complained in a public comment that no information is provided about how the sensitive data will be maintained, stored, and protected.

At the close of the 30-day comment period on October 13, some 5,000 comments had been registered, expressing a range of concerns with the agency’s plan to expand biometrics collection.

A huge coalition of groups co-signed a letter to Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf in September, requesting the comment period be extended from 30 to 60 days to comply with Executive Order 12866.

The American  Immigration  Lawyers  Association (AILA) along with the American Immigration Council and the Immigration Defense Clinic at Colorado Law, as well as First Focus on Children, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), and the Open Society Justice Initiative, which compared the proposal with a mass biometrics collection project in Kenya which was rejected by that country’ high court.

Invest in the USA expressed general support for biometrics collection by Regional Center operators, but posing specific questions about the proposed changes.

Other commenters expressed support for a system which could help the government identify people who attempt to skirt regular immigration processes.

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