The Trump administration has formally submitted a policy proposal that would dramatically expand the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) ability to collect the biometric data of immigrants to America. The final proposal was published on September 11, and is now in a 30-day comment period that will close on October 13.
The lengthy plan corroborates earlier reporting, and would allow DHS to gather face, iris, palm, and voice data, as well as DNA. It would also allow the agency to cast a much wider net that ensnares US citizens in addition to visa applicants, stating that “any applicant, petitioner, sponsor, beneficiary, or individual filing or associated with an immigration benefit or request, including U.S. citizens, must appear for biometrics collection without regard to age unless the agency waives or exempts the requirement.”
In plain terms, that means that anyone that sponsors a visa applicant could be asked to submit their DNA to the American government. DHS argues that it needs DNA to prove familial relationships, but critics argue that the policy is vaguely worded, and could give DHS the authority to force lawyers or HR representatives to submit their biometric data if their company wants to sponsor a foreign worker.
As it stands, DHS only has the authority to collect fingerprints from immigrants themselves. The new rule would allow the agency to collect more than 6 million biometric records every single year, up from the 3.9 million records that it collects annually under the current legislation.
DHS argues that the new measures are necessary because its legacy system is a disorganized mess, largely due to human error. A more modern approach would theoretically reduce problems like re-used tracking numbers, name misspellings, and missing paperwork.
However, the fact that there are so many problems with the existing system is cause for concern among privacy advocates. For example, it’s unclear how DHS’s bureaucratic abilities would improve when it has to keep track of more records, especially since it did not provide any information about how (and for how long) it would store the biometric data it collects. It also failed to disclose whether other agencies would have access to that information.
Meanwhile, the fact that there is only a 30-day comment window creates the impression that DHS is trying to force the legislation through as quickly and with as little oversight as possible. The agency has tried to circumnavigate America’s privacy laws in the past, most recently when it asked for an exemption for the the massive biometric database now in development.
Source: Bloomberg Law
September 21, 2020 – by Eric Weiss