Secretive DHS Program Aimed at Comprehensive Biometric Surveillance, says EFF

The Department of Homeland Security is working on a secretive project aimed at dramatically expanding its biometric surveillance powers – and the Electronic Frontier Foundation is arguing it it must be stopped.

The project is dubbed HART, for Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology, and it entails the collection of a wide range of data – not only the fingerprint records of 220 million individuals in the DHS’s IDENT database, but also the face biometrics currently being collected at border checkpoints, as well as iris, voice, and DNA biometrics. According to one internal document from the Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM), the aim is to enable facial and iris matching through HART starting in 2019, and to incorporate additional biometric modalities starting in 2020.

This kind of biometric information will also be paired with biographic data including relationship modelling based on things like social media profiles, allowing for a comprehensive portrait of every individual encompassed in the HART databases.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation objects to this program on a number of levels. Profiling HART on its website, the organization argues that its detailed profiling capabilities will allow police organizations to profile individuals based on things like political and religious affiliations; and the organizations cites studies indicating that facial recognition systems perform less accurately on non-white and non-male subjects, paving the way for systemic, automated discrimination. On a more fundamental level, the EFF argues that HART will violate citizens’ privacy, and will put their sensitive data at risk by sharing it with other security organizations, and storing it in servers vulnerable to attack.

This thematic conflict is already being played out over the DHS’s face-scanning activities at airports, and over police agencies’ use of tools like Amazon’s Rekognition machine vision service. And while the DHS has made at least a token effort to engage with such concerns, the debate will likely escalate along with the government’s growing collection of biometric data.

Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation

June 11, 2018 – by Alex Perala