Mimesis Law
13 December 2019

Because Secrecy Comes First, FBI Seeks Immunity from Privacy Suits

June 2, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Using one its most effective and ostensible justifications for infringements upon our privacy, the FBI seeks to be exempt from lawsuits filed for its violations of the Privacy Act.  From The Washington Post:

The FBI wants to exempt its burgeoning national database of fingerprints and facial photos from a federal law that gives Americans the right to sue for government violations of the Privacy Act, such as refusing to tell a person if he or she is in the system.

The bureau also wants to shield its data storehouse from other Privacy Act rules, including one that lets people ensure that the information the government holds about them is accurate.

The main “justification” is that if they are required to disclose this stuff through the courts, the bad guys will know they are in the crosshairs of law enforcement and will thus evade capture.  The ominous implication is these conniving monsters will then cause us harm.  Plus, only true “criminals” would seek this kind of information anyway, because the feds only scour for mugshots when using its facial recognition technology:

But the FBI and Justice Department say the reason they are seeking the exemptions is to ensure that ongoing investigations are not compromised by people learning they are the subjects of probes. They also say that another federal rule gives people the ability to obtain any criminal records they might have in the database.

Moreover, the agencies say, only criminal mug shots are searched using facial recognition technology. And it is used only to come up with leads, not to identify a suspect or verify an identity.

Putting aside the obvious distinction that not every arrest results in a conviction, the stats reflect that every year millions of people are collared by law enforcement nationwide.   According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, 11.2 million people were arrested just in 2014 (not including arrests for traffic citations), and their mugshots taken.

As the article notes, the FBI’s Next Generation Identification System, or NGI, was launched in 2008, and holds over 100 million fingerprints from criminal suspects and convicts, as well as 45 million facial photos, including civilian photos.  That is quite a database, one big chunk of people who would be precluded from seeking information or confirmation from the FBI as to whether the information in their dossier (if one actually exists) is accurate.  This includes those who have had to move heaven and earth to find out why they’re on the TSA’s dreaded no-fly list, which serves is a reminder as to how insanely wasteful these “watchlists” have become.  The human consequences range from being unjustly (if not illegally) detained by Customs upon return to the U.S. to being barred from ever setting foot on an airplane.

As to distinguishing between arrests and convictions, the FBI’s database is woefully out of touch with the reality on the ground:

According to figures supplied by the FBI, 43 percent of all federal arrests and 52 percent of all state arrests — or 51 percent of all arrests in NGI — lack final dispositions, such as whether a person has been convicted or even charged. Some of those people, the advocates say, might not be criminals, but the mere fact of having an arrest can disqualify them from a job.

The bureau notes that it has been working on improving disposition rates, but that it often takes years for a criminal case to be disposed of, whether through a conviction or dismissal.  (Emphasis added.)

Privacy groups have written to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting more time for the American public to comment on the FBI’s proposal, noting that the FBI “waited” for more than five years to issue public notice of its NGI program, while the public is now being given just 21 days to comment on this recent proposal.  It’s all being done surreptitiously, as the government knows almost no one keeps up with the Federal Register.

Now, the FBI claims that bad guys will sue to find out if they are on its radar.  But as anyone with a clue already knows, only the most hubristic and oblivious villains will try to get the government’s attention, let alone sue it in federal court.  Those who truly intend to do harm are generally disinclined to put their name on a docket sheet as a plaintiff against the United States government.  Rather, it’s usually the people who have done nothing wrong that get caught up in one of these watch lists.  All while some of the most dangerous fellows on earth get to work incognito with the same government in order to save their own skin, no matter what the cost.

When the government makes arrogant moves like this, it makes people cite George Orwell’s 1984 ad nauseam, and drives them to quote Benjamin Franklin’s famous warning to those who would bargain away essential liberty in the name of temporary safety.  But the more effective these latest justifications for another infringement upon privacy and liberty prove to be, the more suspicious we ought to be of it.

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    10 June 2016 at 9:42 am - Reply

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  • Facial Recognition: Not Just for Cops Anymore
    26 October 2016 at 9:14 am - Reply

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