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Privacy activists sue FBI for access to facial recognition records

Feds ignore FOIA queries about massive biometrics database

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed a suit against the Feds to force the bureau to reveal information about its planned biometrics database.

The EFF said that it had submitted three Freedom of Information Act requests to the FBI last year to try to get info on the database and the agency's use of facial recognition, but hadn't received any answer.

The law enforcement agency is busily beefing up its Next Generation Identification (NGI) database, which will include biometric information like iris scans, palm prints, face-recognition-ready pics and voice data, adding to its existing database of fingerprints for law enforcement agencies across the US.

"NGI will result in a massive expansion of government data collection for both criminal and noncriminal purposes," EFF attorney Jennifer Lynch said in a canned statement.

"Biometrics programmes present critical threats to civil liberties and privacy. Face-recognition technology is among the most alarming new developments, because Americans cannot easily take precautions against the covert, remote, and mass capture of their images."

The pressure group is asking a California court to enforce the FOIA requests and force the Feds to hand over info on the face-recognition programme, including information on the reliability of the technology and details of the FBI's plans to merge “civilian” and criminal records into one database.

Lynch, who has also testified before the US Senate on the privacy implications of facial recognition tech, said that public debate was needed before the G-Men were allowed to expand their surveillance powers – and that debate was only possible once the public were informed about the programme.

According to the EFF, the FBI hasn't updated its Privacy Impact Assessment since 2008, well before it started on the new system and signed with several states for early roll-out of the programme. ®

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