Press Releases

Demand Progress members submit more than 9,000 comments urging DOJ to reject FBI’s request to exempt biometric database from privacy protections


Contact: Kate Kizer, 240.349.6575
Email: [email protected]

Washington, DC — In the past week, members of the progressive digital organizing group Demand Progress have submitted more than 9,000 public comments to the Department of Justice, urging the Department to block the FBI’s request to exempt its massive biometric database – the Next Generation Identification (NGI) system – from provisions of the Privacy Act.

The FBI’s NGI system collects biometric identifiers of millions of Americans, including iris scans, palm prints, face-recognition-ready photos, and voice data, and makes that data available to other agencies at the state and federal levels. The FBI and certain state and local law enforcement can use the system to search for suspects of any crime, but inaccuracies with the system’s facial recognition software have led to misidentifying innocent people as criminals, disproportionately misidentifying women and minorities, and have kept thousands from getting jobs due to faulty background checks.

The text of the public comment reads:

I write today to oppose CPCLO Order No. 003-2016 that would exempt the FBI’s “Next Generation Identification” (NGI) system from provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974.

Without the protections of the Privacy Act, American citizens will have no recourse to figuring out if they are in the NGI system, if that information is accurate, or hold the FBI to account for any mistakes or abuses of the system.

Rather than effectively making the database secret, the FBI should seek to be as transparent as possible about NGI, particularly given its past failure to meet even basic transparency requirements.

I urge you to keep the FBI’s NGI database subject to ALL provisions of the Privacy Act, in addition to implementing additional oversight and public reporting to make NGI more transparent and accessible to the people it tracks.”

The following statement can be attributed to Demand Progress’s Kate Kizer:

“In recent months, the FBI has aggressively sought to expand its access and control of extremely sensitive, personal data about millions of Americans. Its request to exempt its massive biometric database from standard privacy laws in the name of national security is just another excuse to cloak the ever-expanding surveillance state in yet more secrecy.

“The thousands of Americans who submitted public comments opposing this overreach understand that choosing privacy instead of security is a false tradeoff. The expansive nature of the NGI database and the impact of the system’s inaccuracies on ordinary Americans – who have no links to criminal activity – deserves robust scrutiny and oversight from Congress.”