The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is migrating its entire biometric database to the Amazon Web Services GovCloud. The effort represents the first phase of a planned update to the organization’s legacy IDENT biometric identification system, which dates back to 1994.
The Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM) first announced that it would be overhauling the IDENT system back in 2015, and released a privacy impact assessment for the first phase earlier this year. The new Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) system will gradually be implemented through a four-phase process, although the first was not expected to conclude until the end of fiscal 2020, and could be delayed due to COVID-19.
The goal for that first phase is to update the system’s existing infrastructure, and to make sure that all of the biometric records in the IDENT database make their way to the cloud-based HART system. Once that process is complete, HART will become the biometric system of record for DHS and other national security organizations.
At that point, HART will have the same biometric matching capabilities as the current IDENT system, and will be used in much the same way. However, HART will be easier to scale as a cloud-based solution. Later phases will introduce new applications with an eye towards interoperability, and will include new web portals and support for new biometric modalities.
The cloud transition is being performed by Northrop Grumman, which won a $95 million contract for the project.
DHS has asked for an exemption from the Privacy Act for the HART system, although it is yet to offer a substantive rationale for the request. As it stands, privacy advocates like the EFF have repeatedly criticized DHS for the sweeping scope of the system (HART will eventually include face, fingerprint, iris, and voice biometrics), and for trying to hide that scope from the public.
A separate privacy impact assessment in August revealed that the DHS has been quietly sharing the biometric information of refugees with the UN Refugee Agency.
May 7, 2020 – by Eric Weiss