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Government Surveillance

CDT Response to Proposed DHS Rulemaking to Broadly Expand Biometric Data Collection from Immigrants, Citizens, and Green Card Holders

RE: Comment of the Center for Democracy & Technology on DHS Docket Number USCIS-2019-0007, Collection and Use of Biometrics by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

To Whom It May Concern:

The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to advancing the rights of the individual in the digital world. We seek to limit unwarranted governmental intrusions on privacy for U.S. and non-U.S persons alike. We respectfully submit these comments urging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to withdraw proposed rule DHS Docket Number USCIS-2019-0007 Collection and Use of Biometrics by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. If implemented, the rule would dramatically expand the persons subject to biometric data collection, the purposes for which biometrics are collected, and the types of biometrics DHS could compel from U.S. and non-U.S. persons.

Among the many changes in this massive proposal, DHS would:

  • Dramatically expand the universe of people who could be subject to biometrics collection, authorizing the collection of biometrics from a broad array of immigrants and U.S. citizens, including: “any applicant, petitioner, sponsor, beneficiary, or individual filing or associated with a certain benefit or request,”;
  • Expand the scope of biometric information to be collected, allowing DHS to collect iris scans, facial images (including facial images specifically for facial recognition, as well as photographs of physical or anatomical features such as scars, skin marks, and tattoos), palm prints, and, in some cases, DNA test results, including partial DNA samples; and
  • Subject immigrants to an ominous regime of “continuous vetting:” at any point during the years-long (oftentimes decades-long) process of becoming a U.S. citizen, DHS can demand updated biometric information from them, and can periodically require their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relatives to resubmit information as well.

This proposal is breathtaking in scale and impact. It will double the population from which DHS may seek sensitive personal information, it will cost millions of dollars every year to implement, it will introduce further delays into an already backlogged immigration system, and it risks eroding the privacy rights of millions of people in the United States. DHS has not provided the public, including CDT, enough time to properly comment on the many implications this rule if implemented would have on privacy, the protection of civil rights and the exercise of civil liberties. The agency has proffered weak justifications for why this massive data collection scheme is necessary or wise. It spends little ink on protections that might be afforded the data collected, leading to the possibility that few protections would be put in place. The proposal is also seemingly divorced from reality: at a time in which Congress, state legislators and the public are recognizing the need to be thoughtful about biometric data collection, DHS is barreling full steam ahead. We fear that if this proposed rule is implemented as written, immigrants and their loved ones would face a Hobson’s choice: forgo family reunification, protection from oppressive governments, protection from abusers, and a path to stability, or forgo a great deal of privacy, security and respite from the watchful eyes of government. For these many reasons we respectfully submit that this rule should be withdrawn.

Read the full comments here.