Why Is the Government Collecting Your Biometric Data?
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TG: How have things evolved since 9/11?
JL: One of the things that came out in the 9/11 commission report is just how siloed the government was when it came to data sharing and how that contributed to several parts of the federal government having pieces of the puzzle before 9/11 and not talking to each other. And so after 9/11, we had several executive orders and some changes in the law that required data sharing and required federal government databases to be interoperable. and there's very good reasons for this -- if the DHS has somebody's records on their immigration status and there's something in there about their border crossing and we suspect them of being a terrorist and we actually have probable cause for that, you want the FBI to get access to that information.
The problem is, for the most part we're just talking about regular people, very small-time criminals or even people most people wouldn't consider criminals, like people who've been charged with a tail-light violation or for driving too fast, or domestic violence victims. And the data is being swept up and collected by the federal government. That's what happened in the years after 9/11.
And the whole reason we never had data-sharing before is purely because we have very different standards for criminal justice investigations and terrorism investigations. And if you combine all that data, share all that information, then you may be collecting information using a very low standard of suspicion and then using that data for criminal justice purposes, which is what we see with some of the National Security letters.
TG: One example of the potential problems that arise with data-sharing is Secure Communities.
JL: Secure Communities is a perfect example of that because states, as part of their data-sharing with the federal government, send all their fingerprints to federal agencies and that's a good thing for states because they know if somebody they pick up has been charged with a crime in a different jurisdiction. But what the states didn't agree to or didn't understand was this backend sharing between the FBI and DHS and that was what Secure Communities became, because the FBI sent fingerprints to the DHS database and they were matched for suspected immigration infractions, then DHS, or ICE, put a detainer or a hold on that person and just came and picked them up and had a lot of people deported -- and something like 3,000 people deported who were actually US citizens -- because the immigration databases are so inaccurate.
TG: And that was also another instance where domestic violence victims were getting picked up right?
JL: There were examples of that, where a victim would call in to report domestic violence, and as is common they wouldn't be able to figure out who was a victim and who was the abuser and they would just pick up both people and that's especially problematic if you're talking about families. I have a son and I think about it from that perspective. A lot of times parents would get picked up, by LAPD or whoever the local police department is, and have a detainer put on them by ICE and get deported even though they have kids living in this country. I just can't imagine having to deal with that, having to know your kids don't have somebody waiting for them at school. It seems tragic to me.
TG: What are some other ways these data-collection efforts dovetail with other surveillance initiatives like the monitoring of social networks or location tracking?