A lawsuit has been filed against the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for refusing to produce details about a secretive program which gathers biometric data, including facial imaging information, on millions of Americans and other nationals.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit civil liberties group defending free speech and privacy, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday to compel the FBI to hand over records about a facial-recognition database it is building.
The FBI’s Next Generation Identification program (NGI) is designed to gather and record multiple biometric data, including iris scans, palm prints, face-recognition-ready photos, and voice data, on millions of Americans and foreign nationals.
The information stored in the FBI’s NGI biometric database will also be shared with other agencies at the local, state, federal, and international levels.
The FBI has described the new program as a “bigger, faster, and better” version of its Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS).
“Biometrics programs present critical threats to civil liberties and privacy. Face-recognition technology is among the most alarming new developments, because Americans cannot easily take precautions against the covert, remote, and mass capture of their images,” said EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch.
The EFF has asked the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California to require the FBI to respond to its Freedom of Information Act requests, sent in June and July of last year, seeking details about the bureau’s NGI system.
According to the EFF, the FBI’s new biometrics database would have “an unprecedented impact on Americans’ privacy interests” and the U.S. government cannot expand its surveillance powers without informing the public about new surveillance programs.
The lawsuit comes as the FBI has recently come under fire over the use of drones in domestic spying operations.
During an oversight hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller admitted that the bureau uses drones for surveillance on U.S. soil.