The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is urging people to weigh in on a new policy proposal that would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sweeping powers to gather the biometric information of immigrants and the US citizens who sponsor them. DHS officially tabled the policy in mid-September, and is now accepting comments during an unusually brief 30-day window that closes on October 13.
The EFF has submitted a request to extend the window by an additional 30 days, noting that federal agencies are normally required to give the public 60 days to comment. Privacy advocates have expressed concern that DHS is trying to avoid scrutiny and circumnavigate traditional oversight procedures with the truncated window.
The policy itself would allow DHS to collect people’s DNA, in addition to more traditional biometrics like faces, irises, and palm and voice prints. It would also allow the agency to gather information from children under the age of 14. As it currently stands, the agency only has the authority to collect information from adults, and even then it can only record their fingerprints, signatures, and facial images. If it goes through, the policy would dramatically increase the number of people that fall within DHS’s biometric sphere, to around 6 million people annually.
For its part, the EFF warned a DHS with access to more biometric information would be more likely to use that information to carry out surveillance activities that target the American public. The privacy watchdog also questioned DHS’s ability to manage such a massive database. DHS has suffered high-profile security breaches in the past, with the most recent one occurring in 2019 when nearly 200,000 facial images and around 50,000 license plates were stolen during an attack against a Customs and Border Protection subcontractor. The agency has since been forced to acknowledge that CBP’s poor security practices ultimately led to the breach.
October 2, 2020 – by Eric Weiss