Should the Federal Bureau of Investigation be exempt from federal privacy laws that govern the collection and use of a citizen’s personal information? Some federal law enforcement officials at the FBI think so.
The FBI wants the personal information that is stored in their massive biometric database to be exempt from current U.S. privacy regulations. The nation’s top law enforcement agency believes that they should not be required to inform people that their personal information in stored in the department’s database of biometric records. This database reportedly contains face scans, fingerprints and other biometric data for millions of people. Predictably, the FBI argues that releasing this information to individuals who request it could compromise criminal investigations by the department as well as national security operations.
The FBI calls this giant database of personal information by the Orwellian name of “Next Generation Identification System.” This high-tech identification system includes iris scans, fingerprints, DNA records, palm prints, face scans, tattoo images as well as background search and biographical records on millions of people.
Not everyone in this database is a known or suspected criminal. The database contains personal records on law-abiding citizens too. The Next Generation Identification System also holds personal records on people who have been fingerprinted as part of their military service, professional licensing, volunteers service, employment requirements as well as anyone who has undergone an official government background check, obtained a government security clearance or become a naturalized United States citizen.
The FBI is proposing that the information held in this database be exempt from several areas of the Federal Privacy Act of 1974. This federal law governs how people’s personal information can be collected, stored and used by federal government departments. According to the law, federal government agencies are required to share the personal information they collect on people with any person who requests to see their own personal records. The law also allows people to verify that the information in their records is accurate and provides an option for correcting any errors in their records.
According to the FBI’s proposal, allowing people to obtain and correct their personal information in these records would risk compromising national security work and criminal investigations by giving suspects direct insight into the FBI’s data collection practices and uses.
Although it is not known publicly how many people are currently in the FBI’s database, it has been reported that the facial recognition data alone contained over 50 million face scans as of 2015.
Privacy advocates worry that the FBI’s proposed exemptions will create a dangerous environment where law enforcement agencies have too much power to decide what personal data they can collect and how it can be used without notifying citizens and without any oversight by congress and the courts.