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A Biometric Hellhole: The FBI's Next Generation Identification

Currently, the FBI and DHS have separate databases (called IAFIS and IDENT, respectively) that each have the capacity to store an extensive amount of information—including names, addresses, social security numbers, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, fingerprints, booking photos, unique identifying numbers, gender, race, and date of birth. Within the last few years, DHS and FBI have made their data easily searchable between the agencies. However, both databases remained independent, and were only “unimodal,” meaning they only had one biometric means of identifying someone—usually a fingerprint. In contrast, as CCR’s FOIA documents reveal, FBI’s NGI database will be populated with data from both FBI and DHS records. Further, NGI will be “multimodal.” This means NGI is designed to allow the collection and storage of the now-standard 10-print fingerprint scan in addition to iris scans, palm prints, and voice data. It is also designed to expand to include other biometric identifiers in the future. NGI will also allow much greater storage of photos, including crime scene security camera photos, and, with its facial recognition and sophisticated search capabilities, it will have the “increased ability to locate potentially related photos (and other records associated with the photos) that might not otherwise be discovered as quickly or efficiently, or might never be discovered at all.” The FBI does not just collect and store data from people caught up in the criminal justice system; about 1/3 of the data collected and reviewed in IAFIS is from civil sources such as attorney bar applications, federal and state employees, and people who work with children or the elderly. In the past, the FBI has not allowed these records to include photos and has segregated civil records from criminal data. Civil records were also not included in bulk checks for criminal investigative purposes. NGI may take down these barriers, however. There is some evidence to show the FBI is considering including this data in future NGI database searches and, according to the CCR FOIA documents, has already begun to include civil records from DHS and State Department database files such as visa applications, immigration records, and border entries and exits.

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