Biometrics, Data, and Privacy

Essay #1: Topic: Biometrics, Data, and Privacy

In 2011, the Friendly Brotherhood of Investigators (FBI) signed a contract with the military developer Lockheed Martin to launch a pilot program called “Next Generation Identification” (NGI). This program was designed to utilize biometric data to assist the investigations of local and federal law enforcement agencies as part of anti-terrorism, anti-fraud, and national security programs. By late 2014, the program’s facial recognition sector became fully operational and was used regularly by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to aid in the identification of persons of interest in open investigations. This program compares visuals from surveillance cameras or other imaging devices with the world’s largest database of photographs to find similarities in facial details and provide identification. When the program was first introduced, the FBI used biometric data from known and convicted criminals to compile the database. However, the database has since been expanded through a program run by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) called FACE (facial analysis, comparison, and evaluation), and now includes driver license photos from individuals that have been issued a photo ID from participating states.

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Objections to the inclusion of driver license photos of law-abiding citizens have been raised by many organizations, including the Government Accountability Office, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. This controversy primarily stems from the perceived lack of disclosure by the FBI over the specifics of the NGI and FACE programs, or the ability for citizens to agree to, or opt-out of, the use of their images. Senior Staff Attorney for the EFF, Jennifer Lynch, raised concerns about the implications of such technology, as well as its legal validity. She notes that “data that’s being collected for one purpose is being used for a very different purpose.” Lynch argues that due to facial recognition technologies, “Americans cannot easily take precautions against the covert, remote, and mass capture of their images,” especially if they are not made aware that such capture and retention is taking place in the first place. These organizations argue that this goes against federal law (The Privacy Act of 1974) that states that images of faces are protected personal information and alters “the traditional presumption of innocence in criminal cases by placing more of a burden on the defendant to show he is not who the system identifies him to be.”

Those who are not worried about the NGI program or the inclusion of law-abiding citizens’ photographs in the database say that biometric data, including a person’s face, is no different than collecting a person’s fingerprints, and that this information is crucial for national security. Such information has gained a renewed importance in light of recent terror attacks, both domestically and abroad. Stephen Morris, the assistant director of the CJIS, states that “new high-tech tools like facial recognition are in the best interests of national security” and argues that it aids law enforcement officials in identifying and capturing terrorists and other criminals. The FBI also “maintains that it searches only against criminal databases” and that requests can be made to include other outside databases, such as various state and federal databases (including state driver license photo databases, and the Department of Defense passport photo database) if and when the FBI deems it necessary for a specific criminal investigation. This highlights the fact that facial recognition technology cannot be considered independently of the databases it uses in its search for more information about imaged persons of interest. Against those that call for more human oversight across database requests integral to facial recognition technology, Morris argues that those who think that “collecting biometrics is an invasion of folks’ privacy” should instead be concerned with how to best “identify…the right person.”

The contract between the FBI and Lockheed Martin is now up for renewal and the President of the United States has demanded that the contract will not be renewed without her review and approval.

Assume you are the “ethics advisor” to the President of the United States. The President already has criminal justice advisors, military advisors, political advisors. And, of course, she must pull together an array of considerations to construct the position most beneficial to U.S. interests. But you are the “ethics advisor.” This means the President wants from you only ethical advice. She wants to see what you think the morally best course of action is for the U.S. government to take regarding the conflicting interests at stake in the collection and use of biometric data in maintaining public safety and national security? She can then weave your position into his or her overall decision as to how to proceed. So, refrain from offering legal and military advice. For now, the President wants to appeal to Lockheed Martin only with a good moral argument.

He is giving us a chance to rewrite this and he has also added what could be better within this paper, if you could please rewrite my paper on what is better in his eyes that would be greatly appreciated. I have attached my paper with his feedback.

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