Tell the Department of Homeland Security: Stop Collecting DNA and other Biometrics

Update (10/16/20): The comment window is now closed. EFF will be posting our response to the DHS in the days to come. Thank you to everyone who made your voice heard against this unjust rule change.)

We need your help. On September 11, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its intention to significantly expand both the number of people required to submit biometrics during routine immigration applications and the types of biometrics that individuals must surrender. This new rule will apply to immigrants and U.S. citizens alike, and to people of all ages, including, for the first time, children under the age of 14. It would nearly double the number of people from whom DHS would collect biometrics each year, to more than six million. The biometrics DHS plans to collect include palm prints, voice prints, iris scans, facial imaging, and even DNA—which are far more invasive than DHS’s current biometric collection of fingerprints, photographs, and signatures.  (For an incisive summary of the proposed changes, click here.)

DHS has given the public until October 13, 2020 to voice their concerns about this highly invasive and unprecedented proposal. If you want your voice heard on this important issue, you must submit a comment through the Federal Register. Your visit to their website and comment submission are subject to their privacy policy which you can read here.

Immigrating to the United States, or sponsoring your family member to do so, should not expose your most intimate and sensitive personal data to the U.S. government. But that’s what this new rule will do, by permitting DHS to collect a range of biometrics at every stage of the “immigration lifecycle.” The government does not, and should not, take DNA samples of every person born on U.S. soil—so why should it do the same for immigrants coming to the United States or U.S. citizens seeking to petition a family member?  

We cannot allow the government to normalize, justify, or develop its capacity for the mass collection of DNA and other sensitive biometrics. This move by DHS brings us one step closer to mass dragnet genetic surveillance. It also risks that people’s biometric information will be vulnerable to breach or future misuse by expanding the types of biometrics collected from each individual, storing all data together in one database, and using a unique identifier to link several biometrics to each person. The U.S. government has shown time and time again that it cannot protect our personal data. In 2019, DHS admitted that the images of almost 200,000 people taken for its face recognition pilot, as well as automated license plate reader data, were released onto the dark web after a cyberattack compromised a subcontractor. In 2015, the Office of Personnel Management admitted a breach of 5.6 million fingerprints, in addition to the SSNs and other personal information of more than 25 million Americans. We cannot run the risk of similar infiltrations happening again with people’s DNA, voice prints, iris scans, or facial imaging.

Tell DHS: I oppose the proposed rulemaking, which would allow the Department of Homeland Security to vastly increase the types of biometrics it collects, as well as double the number of people from whom it collects such biometrics, including children. These actions create security and privacy risks, put people in the United States under undue suspicion, and make immigrants and their U.S. citizen family members vulnerable to surveillance and harassment based on race, immigration status, nationality, and religion.


Tuesday 29th September 2020 5:25 pm

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