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DHS Biometrics Proposal Represents ‘Unacceptable Escalation of Government Surveillance,’ Senators Say

Published: October 21, 2020
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Source: Nextgov

A group of prominent progressive senators is urging the Homeland Security Department to withdraw its proposal to expand the biometric information collection practices of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., sent a letter to DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf Friday urging the agency to abandon its biometrics proposal due to privacy concerns, calling biometric data collection “invasive.” 

“Expanding biometric-data collection in this manner would chill legal immigration, be inconsistent with our privacy values, and pose disproportionate risks to individuals of color,” the letter reads. “The scope, sensitivity, and invasiveness of the proposed DHS biometric data collection program would amount to an unacceptable escalation of government surveillance.”

USCIS issued a notice of public rulemaking to expand its collection of biometric information in September. The agency allowed a 30-day public comment period, which closed October 13

Many commenters as well as the five senators said the significance of the rule as well as extra burdens created by the COVID-19 pandemic should have merited a longer comments period. But procedural complaints are the tip of the iceberg on this rule proposal. 

The rule proposes expanding the collection of biometric information by allowing USCIS to collect iris scans, face scans, voice prints and palm prints, and to require submission of DNA tests for determining genetic relationships. 

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