Police, health officials, and social media sites are helping add innocent people's biometric information, including DNA, voice recordings, and more, to massive government databases exempted from public scrutiny.
The US government, with the help of police, is storing its citizens’ DNA in massive, shared biometric databases, suggesting that the US’ surveillance state is truly out of control. For those not familiar with the term, biometrics are unique markers that identify or verify the identity of a person using intrinsic physical or behavioral characteristics, such as fingerprints.
The widespread collection of biometric data is being facilitated by US police, who are now collecting people’s DNA even when no crime has taken place. Private labs are then being used to store the genetic material for unknown periods of time. The practice, sometimes referred to as “stop and spit,” involves requesting the DNA of those who interact with police at routine traffic stops or other scenarios. It remains largely unregulated, which had led to its widespread implementation across the US. Many of those subjected to the practice, including a large number of minors, were unaware of their option to refuse the officer’s request.
Unregulated DNA collection isn’t the only method used by police to obtain the biometric data of innocent people. The MORIS device, a block-shaped, black gadget attached to an officer’s iPhone, has the ability to gather iris scans, fingerprints, and photos that are searchable with face recognition technology.
This information is then often shared with the federal government, which has been expanding its databases of US citizens in truly Orwellian fashion since the 9/11 attacks. The Department of Justice’s fingerprint database has been expanded to include biometrics collected by police, as well as records of scars, tattoos, voice recordings, and one’s gait. Several federal agencies such as DHS and the FBI have their own databases as well. Each database is interoperable with those of other agencies, making them easily shared between US government agencies as well as with foreign governments and private corporations.
The FBI’s new “Next Generation Identification” system is particularly worrisome as the FBI and DOJ are trying to keep information about the database from getting out to the public. Government officials argue that this database should not be subject to the Privacy Act, which requires the government to give people access to records collected about them. If the government says that those who aren’t criminals have nothing to hide by surrendering their personal information and biometrics, why is the government so concerned with hiding its database that stores said information?
The databases also include information involving one’s online presence. Everything from Facebook posts to Google searches to comments left on online news articles are stored. The most common targets of biometric data are immigrants, as DHS requires those crossing US borders to offer biometric data, as well as those arrested at protests.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that DNA could be collected from those arrested but not yet charged with a crime, meaning that those arrested at protests but not charged with any crime can be forced to submit to DNA samples. Newborn babies are another susceptible group to biometric data collection as their DNA is quietly being stored by the US health officials without proper parental consent from blood samples taken at birth. That information has also been sold to 3rd parties, i.e. private companies, in some cases. There is no good reason and no excuse for the government to hoard such detailed information on innocent citizens, including babies, unless the database’s real purpose is aimed at technocratic social control and repression.
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