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A new rule exempts the FBI's biometrics database from the Privacy Act.
The biometrics database, called the Next Generation Identification system stores the fingerprints and names of government employees, people with a criminal background, people who have applied for citizenship and people who have had background checks done as part of the application process for federal jobs or military service. The database combines biometrics information gathered from state, local, federal and tribal law enforcement agencies.
The final rule, published by the U.S. Department of Justice in the federal register, said that the FBI's Next Generation Identification system will not be subject to the parts of the Privacy Act of 1974 that allow judicial redress and the ability to opt out of the database.
The Privacy Act of 1974 requires federal agencies to make their systems of records -- such as the FBI's Next Generation Identification system -- public. It also prevents agencies from disclosing an individual's records without their written consent, and provides individuals with the ability to access and amend their records.
The new final rule will prevent an individual from knowing whether their fingerprints and associated information -- including names, criminal backgrounds and iris scans -- are stored in the FBI's Next Generation Identification system.
According to the document in the federal register, the exemptions are "necessary to avoid interference with the Department's law enforcement and national security functions and responsibilities of the FBI."
This move by the Justice Department to allow the FBI's Next Generation Identification system to be exempt from the Privacy Act has been met with criticism from privacy advocates.
When a draft of the rule published in May 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union responded with a blog post that claims the Next Generation Identification system "has the capability to store information on tattoos and such things as voice and gait recognition data," adding that, "with the construction of such a powerful surveillance tool, and all the potential for abuse that it brings, comes the need for checks and balances of commensurate strength."
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