FBI set to build big biometric database

Published reports say the FBI is almost ready to award a $1 billion, 10 year services contract to expand a controversial biometric database of individual’s physical characteristics all in the name of fighting crime and terrorists more efficiently.  

Privacy advocates and anyone else who is concerned about any government agencies collecting such private information say such a database is crossing the line and the use of it needs to be monitored closely, if the system is to be built at all.  

Some police departments are already using such biometric systems to track criminals. The Police Department of Atlanta, for example, which makes 63,000 arrests per year, this year got a workflow-based biometrics system that can scan palm prints in addition to fingerprints.

The FBI database would really be an expansion of the data gathering the FBI already does at its Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division. CJIS is the FBI’s massive central repository for criminal justice information services; the CJIS division operates national-level crime data systems that furnish name checks, fingerprints, criminal history data, mugshots and other information to law enforcement officials.

CJIS is located on 986 acres of land in Clarksburg, W. Va. The complex includes a 500,000-square foot main office building. The complex is nearly the length of three football fields. It features a 600-seat cafeteria and a 100,000-square-foot computer center.

The FBI in Oct. awarded Lockheed Martin a $16 million contract to upgrade its Hewlett Packard Superdome Unix servers that support the database. The new and upgraded servers will be part of the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. IAFIS maintains the largest biometric database in the world, containing the fingerprints and corresponding criminal history information for more than 47 million subjects in the Criminal Master File, according to the FBI Web site. The fingerprints and corresponding criminal history information are submitted voluntarily by state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies.

According to a story on CNN.Com you don’t have to be a criminal or a terrorist to be checked against the current database. More than 55% of the checks the FBI runs involve criminal background checks for people applying for sensitive jobs in government or jobs working with vulnerable people such as children and the elderly, according to the FBI.The FBI says it hasn’t been saving the fingerprints for those checks, but that may change, according to CNN. The FBI plans a so-called “rap-back” service in which an employer could ask the FBI to keep the prints for an employee on file and let the employer know if the person ever has a brush with the law. The FBI says it will first have to clear hurdles with state privacy laws, and people would have to sign waivers allowing their information to be kept, according to the CNN story.

But gathering all that data in the name of protecting US citizens from terrorists getting into and moving freely in the country is not placating detractors.

“It’s the beginning of the surveillance society where you can be tracked anywhere, any time and all your movements, and eventually all your activities will be tracked and noted and correlated,” Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Technology and Liberty Project told CNN.   

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