The Better to Track You With, My Dear

By Anthony | February 5th, 2008 | 8:32 am

The FBI would like to get to know you a little bit better:

The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world’s largest computer database of peoples’ physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad.

Millions of fingerprints are already kept on file by the FBI. This data ostensibly comes from criminal records. However under this new program, known as “Next Generation Identification”, the biometrics of many law-abiding citizens will end up stored indefinitely in FBI databases.

More than 55 percent of the search requests now are made for background checks on civilians in sensitive positions in the federal government, and jobs that involve children and the elderly, [Thomas E. Bush III, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division] said. Currently those prints are destroyed or returned when the checks are completed. But the FBI is planning a “rap-back” service, under which employers could ask the FBI to keep employees’ fingerprints in the database, subject to state privacy laws, so that if that employees are ever arrested or charged with a crime, the employers would be notified.

There seems to be a pattern here, of our government collecting more and more information on innocent people in the name of “protecting us”. As before, I’m sure there will be apologists who claim that “you don’t have anything to worry about if you aren’t a terrorist”, but this should be a disturbing trend to anyone who says they favor a limited federal government. As we saw in the 60s and 70s pre-FISA, civil servants and politicians are not immune to the temptation to use governmental power for their own personal benefit.

Once we have the technology to reliably gather biometrics passively, from a distance, the situation gets even worse. At that point, there doesn’t even need to be an actual abuse of the system for it to affect us. As Hale Boggs was quoted in the Church Committee report, “Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of action for men in public life can be compromised quite as effectively by the fear of surveillance as by the fact of surveillance.”

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