5 Things You Should Know About the FBI's Massive New Biometric Database
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Meanwhile, existing laws are rarely up to speed with galloping technological advances in surveillance, say privacy advocates. At this point, "You just have to rely on law enforcement to do the right thing," Lynch says.
2. Iris Scans
Iris-scanning technology is the centerpiece of the second-to-last stage in the roll-out of NGI (scheduled for sometime before 2014). Iris scans offer up several advantages to law enforcement, both in terms of identifying people and fattening up databases.
The pattern of an iris is so unique it can distinguish twins, and it allegedly stays the same throughout a person's life. Like facial recognition, iris scans cut out the part where someone has to be arrested or convicted of a crime for law enforcement to grab a record of their biometric data.
"This capability has the potential to benefit law
In fact, being in the same place as a police officer equipped with a mobile iris-scanning device is all it takes. Last fall, police departments across the country got access to the MORIS device, a contraption attached to an iPhone that lets police collect digital fingerprints, run face recognition and take iris scans. (Over the summer, the FBI also starting passing out mobile devices to local law enforcement that lets them collect fingerprints digitally at the scene, according to Government Computer News.)
3. Rap-Back System
A lot of the action in the FBI's fingerprint database is in background checks for job applicants applying to industries that vet for criminal history, like taking care of the elderly or children, hospital work, and strangely, being a horse jockey in Michigan. As Cari Athens, writing for the Michigan Telecommunications and Law Review points out, if a job applicant checks out, the FBI either destroys the prints or returns them to the employer. But that's no fun if the goal is to collect vast amounts of biometric data!
Through the "Rap-Back" system, the FBI will offer employers another option: the agency is willing to keep the fingerprints in order to alert the employer if their new hire has run-ins with the law at any point in the future.
"The Rap-Back Service will provide authorized users the capability to receive notification of criminal and, in limited cases, civil activity of enrolled individuals that occurs after the initial processing and retention of criminal or civil fingerprint transactions," reads the FBI site.
4. Data Sharing Between Agencies
The roll-out of NGI advances another goal: breaking down barriers between databases operated by different agencies. One of the directives of the billion-dollar project is to grease information swapping between the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Defense. The DOJ and DHS have worked toward "interoperatibility" between their databases for years. In 2009, the Department of Defense and DOJ also signed on to an agreement to share biometric information.
All of these agencies have been busy ramping up their collection of data. The Department of Defense's ABIS database has archived fingerprints, images of faces, iris scans, and palm prints in Iraq and Afghanistan and have started collecting voice recordings. They claim to have 5.1 million records, with 49 percent coming from Iraq, but efforts in Afghanistan are ramping up, according to a DoD powerpoint. (Biometric information gathered in Iraq will not be relinquished with our pull-out, as Spencer Ackerman reported.) The Department of Homeland Security biometric database (IDENT) grabs the fingerprints and a photo (searchable with facial recognition) of visitors to the US through a program called US-Visit. Through the Secure-Communities program, meant to reveal the immigration status of people booked in local jails, (more on that below) both IDENT and the FBI collected biometric information from local law enforcement.