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Oversight board for DHS biometrics use proposed by committee

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The Homeland Security Advisory Council of the United States (HSAC) has agreed that a special body should be created with the responsibility to assess how various organs of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) make use of biometric tools and policies.

This is one of a number of proposals contained in a report that was adopted by members of the Committee, according to Next Gov. The body will be called the Biometrics Oversight and Coordination Council.

The approved draft report is made up of 10 key proposals that address how the DHS employs biometric technologies such as facial recognition and fingerprint scans.

Next Gov reports that the move by HSAC comes just two months after a proposed new rule by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sparked public disenchantment.

HSAC Robert Bonner underlined the importance of the proposed change in the way the DHS should handle its biometric operations. He said the HSAC subcommittee on biometrics found that although DHS components appear to comply with certain notice requirements such as Privacy Impact Assessments and Systems of Records Notices, the way they conceive and implement their communication and outreach plan each time they want to introduce new biometric capabilities sometimes falls short of expectations.

“Per our recommendations, an operational agency proposing a new use of biometric or a novel use of an existing biometric would submit two plans to this council, an implementation plan and a communication or outreach plan. The council would review, discuss and vet the plans and ultimately, the deputy secretary would approve or concur before a full rollout of a new biometric or a new use of an existing biometric,” Bonner was quoted by Next Gov as saying.

“For instance, the rollout of biometric exit by CBP, which was, and I think the subcommittee would say is, a good and creative solution to biometric exit, yet was roundly criticized in the media and on the hill. The lesson learned is, we believe, the importance of a detailed communication plan to address potential concerns prior to launch,” Bonner further explained.

Lately, some components of the DHS have been faulted for sloppy communications regarding biometric operations, as highlighted in an audit published in September by the Government Accountability Office.

The need for operational agencies within DHS to designate a dedicated official overseeing agency biometrics programs, and an update of DHS’s 2015 biometrics strategy document to account for use of newer technologies like facial recognition, are some of the other recommendations.

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