A group of prominent senators have issued an open letter urging the Department of Homeland Security to back away from its plans to escalate the collection of biometric data of immigrants at US borders.
The controversial plan was first unveiled in September, when the Trump administration launched its proposal to allow the DHS to collect data including face, palm, iris, voice, and DNA data from visa applicants and the US citizens sponsoring them. In tabling the proposal, the DHS opened up an unusually short window for public comment, drawing the ire of civil rights advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Now, a collection of high-profile Democratic and Independent senators are weighing in. These include Ed Markey, D-Mass., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
“Expanding biometric-data collection in this manner would chill legal immigration, be inconsistent with our privacy values, and pose disproportionate risks to individuals of color,” their letter states. “The scope, sensitivity, and invasiveness of the proposed DHS biometric data collection program would amount to an unacceptable escalation of government surveillance.”
The senators also highlighted the vulnerability of biometric databases to data breaches, citing a 2019 breach in which 184,000 facial images were compromised. This past September, the DHS’s own Inspector General issued a report on the incident in which US Customs and Border Protection was faulted for poor security practices.
Senator Markey has previously displayed concern about the protection of biometric data when he sent a letter – co-signed by Republican Senator Mike Lee – asking the CBP to clarify its biometric border screening efforts. Senators Merkley and Sanders, meanwhile, proposed national legislation to protect biometric privacy this past summer.
October 20, 2020 – by Alex Perala