It has long been clear that Secure Communities allows local law enforcement officials to check a detainee’s fingerprints with an FBI database to check his or her criminal background. But a press release issued by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network Wednesday also claims that Secure Communities is “a key component of a little-known FBI project to accumulate a massive store of personal biometric information on citizens and non-citizens alike.”

According to the release, documents obtained last year through Freedom of Information Act litigation by the Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Cardozo Law School indicate that Secure Communities is “only the first of several biometric interoperability systems being brought online by the FBI ‘Next Generation Identification’ (NGI) project.”

The release adds that Next Generation Identification will expand the FBI’s existing fingerprint database to add iris scans, palm prints and facial recognition information for a wide range of people.

Secure Communities has been under intense scrutiny since Immigration and Customs Enforcement documents revealed that many undocumented immigrants held for deportation through this program had not committed any crime whatsoever. In the last few months, several state and local elected officials have announced they will opt out of fingerprint-sharing program. But the federal government has made no announcements about putting a stop to the program.

The Day Laborer Organizing Network release suggests the newly released documents raise more questions than they answer about the FBI’s role in Secure Communities, but the group does highlight some findings:

  • The Criminal Justice Information Services Advisory Board, which oversees the FBI’s criminal databases, passed a motion in June 2009 to recommend that the FBI convert Secure Communities “from a voluntary to a mandatory program at the local level.”
  • The FBI’s decision to support the mandatory imposition of Secure Communities was not driven by any legal mandate nor a statutory requirement, but for “record linking/maintenance purposes.”
  • “Both FBI and immigration officials have raised concerns internally that aspects of Secure Communities may interfere with privacy and invade civil liberties.”
  • Department of Homeland Security may be using Secure Communities “to gather and store data about U.S. citizens, too. One of the newly obtained documents indicates that US-VISIT, a component of [Homeland Security,] may have considered storing certain information about individuals in violation of their own internal requirements and privacy laws. This may include the retention of data about the lawful activities of even natural-born U.S. citizens.”
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