The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a comment with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to express its opposition to policy changes that would dramatically expand DHS’s ability to collect the biometric information of immigrants and US citizens alike. The comment was filed in collaboration with several other civil liberties and immigrant rights organizations, and asks DHS to abandon its policy proposal.
DHS tabled its proposal on September 11, and solicited comments in a truncated 30-day window that closed on October 13. The EFF’s official comment echoes its earlier critiques of the policy, which highlighted both the ethical and the technical shortcomings of the initiative.
The new policy would allow DHS to gather face, palm, iris, and voice data, in addition to DNA. It would also open the door for the collection of behavioral biometric data in the future. The DNA data would be used to track immigrant families, and could be shared with other government and law enforcement agencies to power a massive surveillance network in the United States.
DHS would also be casting a much wider net in its search for data. At the moment, the organization only collects data from select immigrants. The new policy would apply to all immigrants (including children under the age of 14) and any US citizens involved in their application, more than doubling the number of people registered with the system every year.
The EFF noted that both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have criticized China’s use of similar technology to monitor the minority Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang. With that in mind, the watchdog argues that the ill effects of the new policy would fall disproportionately on vulnerable minority and immigrant communities in the United States.
As it stands, the EFF believes that DHS has not adequately justified its interest in the invasive policy. It also questions DHS’s ability to protect the data it collects after the agency acknowledged that its own poor security practices led to a major 2019 breach.
In addition to the EFF, five US Senators have asked DHS to drop the policy proposal. More than 5,000 total comments were ultimately filed with the organization.
October 23, 2020 – by Eric Weiss