The federal government continues to find new and creative ways to obtain information for its massive and ever-expanding biometric database,
Last year, we reported that the feds plan to use a TSA program advertised as a way to avoid lines at airport security checkpoints to harvest photos and other biometric information that will ultimately end up in multiple federal databases. We also revealed that private companies are getting into the act. The Lincoln Motor Company has partnered with CLEAR, a private company that helps travelers move through airport security more quickly. Again, biometric data collected by the program will almost certainly end up in the fed’s biometric databases.
Now we have a report that the state of Minnesota enacted a law that will ultimately force thousands of people, including kids as young as 13, to submit their biometric information to the feds.
The law passed last year imposed new background checks on child care providers. According to a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), “the law doesn’t apply just to the providers themselves; it also requires anyone age 13 and up who lives with a family day care provider to submit to the same background check, whether or not they have committed any crime.”
According to a report in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, the law will require about 120,000 Minnesotans to submit facial recognition photos and fingerprints. About 10% of those are kids between the ages of 13 and 17.
While it was a state law that mandated background checks for childcare providers in Minnesota, it has its roots in federal policy. In 2014, Pres. Obama signed the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant. The law provides states with additional block grant funding for childcare if they comply with numerous mandates. Under the law, states must conduct criminal background checks on anybody 18 or over who lives in a “family childcare home,” even if they don’t interact with children. The law stipulates the state must conduct these background checks through the FBI’s Next Generation Identification database (NGI).
States have the option to enact stricter laws, as Minnesota did in requiring children between 13 and 17 to undergo background checks.
This provides yet another means for the FBI and other federal agencies to collect biometric data on millions of Americans.
In 2014, the FBI rolled out a nationwide facial recognition program. According to information obtained by Georgetown Law last year, the Next Generation Identification Interstate Photo System (NGI-IPS), already contains some 25 million state and federal criminal photos, mostly mugshots shared by state and local law enforcement agencies. Photos remain in the system even if a court never convicts the individual of a crime.
As we’ve reported, the feds also collect information for NGI-IPS from other sources, including the TSA airport programs, and all of the photos and fingerprints collected from childcare providers for background checks.
According to the EFF, the FBI’s NGI database stores civil and criminal fingerprints together.
“This means that any fingerprints submitted for licensing or for a background check will most likely end up living indefinitely in NGI—to be searched thousands of times a day for any crime, no matter how minor, by over 20,000 law enforcement agencies across the country and around the world.
The FBI claims that the facial recognition database currently separates photos taken for a non-criminal purpose from criminal mugshots. Of course, there’s no guarantee this policy will remain in place. Even if it does, it still raises significant privacy concerns. if a person is ever arrested for any crime, even if they are never convicted, their non-criminal photographs will be combined with their criminal record and will become fair game for the same criminal database searches as any mugshot photo.
The federal government is in the process of creating an integrated biometric database that will ultimately have the capability to track people virtually anywhere they go. State and local law enforcement agencies also feed into this system. According to the Georgetown Law Perpetual Lineup report, the Department of Defense, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the U.S. Marshals Service have all had access to one or more state or local facial recognition systems.
Perpetuallineup.org describes the shocking breadth of FBI facial search capabilities.
Over 185 million of these photos are drawn from 12 states that let the FBI to search their driver’s license and other ID photos; another 50 million are from four additional states that let the FBI to search both driver’s license photos and mug shots. While we do not know the total number of individuals that those photos implicate, there are close to 64 million licensed drivers in those 16 states. In 2015, the FBI launched a pilot program to search the passport database. It remains unclear if the system can access the entire 125 million passport database or just a subset.
In a May 2016 report, the Government Accountability Office reported that the FBI was negotiating with 18 additional states and the District of Columbia to access their driver’s license photos. In August, the GAO re-released the report, deleting all references to the 18 states and stating that there were “no negotiations underway.” The FBI now suggests that FBI agents had only conducted outreach to those states to explore the possibility of their joining the FACE Services network.
If you value your privacy, you should avoid submitting any kind of biometric data to federal agencies if at all possible.
State and local action can also help limit the scope of these federal biometric databases. They can limit the information they collect and prohibit sharing that information with federal agencies. The feds depend on state and local cooperation, particularly from law enforcement. Prohibiting help would hamper federal action.