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A team of privacy advocates and experts is launching a lawsuit against the FBI for refusing to provide information to the public about its new Next Generation Identification system, which the federal agency says is in demand for its biometric database of Americans.
The lawsuit filed against the FBI in Washington by the Electronic Privacy Information Center is asking for a court order that information about the program’s contracts with private companies and its technical specifications be made available.
EPIC said that the NGI system upon completion “will be the largest biometric database in the world” and will include files of fingerprints, DNA profiles, iris scans, palm prints, voice identification profiles, photographs and other identifying information already collected by states, counties and even schools.
“The FBI will use facial recognition to match images in the database against facial images obtained from CCTV and elsewhere,” the organization said, noting there already are an estimated 30 million spy cameras across the United States.
The complaint explains that the FBI announced in 2009 the NGI system was being created to record, analyze and use biometrics of U.S. citizens – whether they know that their details have been recorded or not.
EPIC followed up shortly later with Freedom of Information Act requests for details about the program’s contracts with private companies. The group wanted to know who would get access to Americans’ biometrics and why.
The database was expected to include millions of photographs, fingerprints, voiceprints and other identifiers of people who are not criminals and are not even suspects in crimes, EPIC said. In fact, they are individuals who probably “are unaware that their images and biometric identifiers were captured.”
Some law enforcement officers now are using handheld devices that allow them to “scan irises and faces of individuals and match them against biometric databases.”
Also, some “school districts now are requiring children to provide biometric identifiers, such as palm prints.”
The complaint said the danger was made clear when a private company was found trying to sell its biometric database of American consumers after its parent company, Verified Identity Pass, collapsed into bankruptcy,
“Personally identifiable information could be lost or misused as a result” of the new program, the complaint said.
Among the private companies thought to be involved are Lockheed Martin, IBM, Accenture, BAE Systems Information Technology, Global Science & Technology, Innovative Management and Technology Services and Platinum Solutions.
States already thought to be providing biometric details to the NGI include Arizona, Hawaii, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Although the FBI admitted that it had more than 7,300 pages of documentation that responded to the requests, EPIC has yet to see any, the complaint alleged.
The FBI explained that it launched the biometric database of Americans because of “customer requirements.”
The FBI said it is expected to replace its existing fingerprint ID system and expand the agency’s capabilities into “multimodal functionality.”
“The NGI Program Office mission is to reduce terrorist and criminal activities by improving and expanding biometric identification and criminal history information services through research, evaluation, and implementation of advanced technology,” the FBI explained.
The system specifically calls for iris records and search capabilities, palm prints, facial recognition capabilities and other components of a “unimodel” system.
“The framework will be expandable, scalable, and flexible to accommodate new technologies and biometric standards, and will be interoperable with existing systems. Once developed and implemented, the NGI initiatives and multimodal functionality will promote a high level of information sharing, support interoperability, and provide a foundation for using multiple biometrics for positive identification,” the FBI said.