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LA Plan to Collect Biometric Data Part of the Broader Surveillance-State

A Los Angeles County law enforcement plan to build a massive biometric data base reveals the intertwined nature of the local, state and federal surveillance state, and provides a disturbing glimpse into the future of every American city and county.

But it also reveals an Achilles Heel we can exploit to stop it.

According to a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the planned database will not only include traditional information such as fingerprints and mug shots, but also iris scans, palm prints and, potentially voice recordings.

The new database of personal information – dubbed a multimodal biometric identification system – would augment the county’s existing database of fingerprint records and create the largest law enforcement repository outside of the FBI of so-called next-generation biometric identification, according to county sheriff’s department documents.

Once fully operational, every law enforcement officer working in the county will collect biometric information utilizing mobile technology. Documents indicate police will collect the information from suspects detained even for minor offenses and traffic violations. Law enforcement will retain the information indefinitely, even for those subjects not ultimately convicted of any crime.

The LA plans follow closely on the heels of an FBI announcement proclaiming its new biometric data system fully operational. According to an FBI press release earlier this month, “The FBI’s New Generation Information System was developed to expand the Bureau’s biometric identification capabilities, ultimately replacing the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) in addition to adding new services and capabilities.”

Those new capabilities include facial recognition technology.

Look closely at the LA County expansion of its biometric database and you will find federal fingerprints all over it. Federal plans depend on state and local support and cooperation. The Center for Investigative Reporting article indicates the county plans are actually an extension of the federal system. The two are intimately intertwined.

Now that the central [FBI]infrastructure is in place, the next phase is for local jurisdictions across the country to update their own information-gathering systems to the FBI’s standards.

And infrastructure actually represents a transfer of military tactics and technology from the battlefield to civilian applications.

The national biometric database is part of the transition of military-grade technologies and information-gathering strategies from the Pentagon to civilian law enforcement. During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade, the U.S. military collected and stored biometric information on millions of civilians and militants.

In 2008, President George W. Bush required the Defense, Homeland Security and Justice departments to establish common standards for collecting and sharing biometric information like iris scans and photos optimized for facial recognition. Law enforcement agencies have been testing mobile systems for documenting biometric information, including a facial recognition program uncovered in San Diego County last fall.

The development of this biometric data network follows the typical federal blueprint – encourage state and local governments to create a network that its own agencies can later utilize and tap into.

It works like this: the feds give away technology, and step in with technical assistance and funding. In return, they get access to information gathered at the state and local level.  The feds have pursued a similar strategy with drones, funding and encouraging state and local law enforcement to implement their own programs, and they have also served as the impetus behind data sharing through fusions centers.

Essentially, the federal government is erasing the lines between the military, federal law enforcement and state and local law enforcement.

This should send chills up and down the spines of anybody concerned with civil liberties and privacy. But we can mine a nugget of good news from this federal/state/local cooperation. Motivating Congress to step in and stop these programs proves nearly impossible. Most senators and representatives have little interest in relinquishing federal power over their constituents. But dedicated activists can more easily drive change and the local and state level.  And by stopping programs like this at the local level, we can actually impede development of the federal surveillance-state.

The OffNow strategy targets this Achilles Heel. It’s a little like the old adage – how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Instead of trying to drive change from the top down, we push from the bottom up. By banning state and local law enforcement from collecting warrantless data, engaging in warrantless  tracking or implementing drone programs with no limits, we not only protect privacy within those state borders, we also erode the feds’ abilities to continue their plans to spy on you.

Please join us in the fight. Click HERE for information on how to get more involved in your state.

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