The FBI has followed through on its plan to exempt its Next Generation Identification system from the Privacy Act. Effective August 31st, 2017, the FBI is no longer bound by the requirement to acknowledge whether it is holding an individual’s biometric records.
The NGI system is widely used by law enforcement and security authorities to perform biometric background checks and to investigate criminals and other individuals whose biometric data has been collected. Last summer, the FBI announced its plan to exempt the program from privacy provisions allowing individuals to find out whether their records are being held, and invited public comment. Privacy and civil rights groups warned against the move and expressed alarm about the breadth of the FBI’s biometric data collection practices, particularly after the revelation that the FBI had secretly been using facial recognition technology to scan through civilian identity records, including the passport and driver license photos of non-criminals.
The FBI has considered such comments and sought to address them in its final ruling, but has nevertheless proceeded with exempting NGI from key provisions of the Privacy Act, essentially on the grounds that disclosing the records it holds could compromise investigations. However, the Bureau says that “[t]he exercise of all exemptions is discretionary and the FBI will not exercise an exemption of any section of the Privacy Act that is not appropriate and necessary,” according to its official notice of its final rule on the issue.
August 4, 2017 – by Alex Perala