July 18, 2011

FBI: Preying on Immigrants to Hoodwink the Public

FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Secure Communities program

By Sarah Berlin of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. This is a cross-post from the People’s Blog for the Constitution.

Documents recently revealed by the FBI show that the Bureau played a significant role in developing the controversial Secure Communities (S-Comm) program. The secrecy underlying this program — and the FBI’s documented strategy to extend it beyond immigrants to include all Americans in the future — is the latest demonstration of the FBI’s continued disregard for civil liberties.

Many organizations, individuals, and even state governments have already spoken out against S-Comm, a program that allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) access to arrest records such as fingerprint data even before the subject is tried or convicted of any crime. While the program was supposedly created to deport undocumented criminals, it has in fact deported hundreds of thousands of undocumented Americans who have never committed a crime, breaking up families (many of which include children or spouses who are US citizens) over mere suspicion of offenses as trivial as a broken taillight.

The controversy over whether states and communities can opt-out of S-Comm heightened two weeks ago when the news broke that the FBI had been pushing S-Comm as a way to build public acceptance of its “Next Generation Identification” (NGI) project, which would create a database of biometric information such as fingerprints, iris scans, and facial recognition data — of not only immigrants, but all Americans. In other words, the FBI designed this program to use immigrants as the guinea pigs for a national biometric ID system that will eventually include all Americans. In such a system, there would be no ID cards — our bodies would be our IDs.

According to Jessica Karp of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON):

NGI is the next generation Big Brother. It’s a backdoor route to a national ID, to be carried not in a wallet, but within the body itself. The FBI’s biometric-based project is vulnerable to hackers and national security breaches and carries serious risks of identity theft. If your biometric identity is stolen or corrupted in NGI, it will be hard to fix. Unlike an identity card or pin code, biometrics are forever.

This type of data collection, especially through a misleading mandatory program, is an astounding violation of transparency principles and an unprecedented invasion into the privacy of law-abiding Americans. The program unfortunately reflects a pattern that has recurred throughout FBI Director Robert Mueller’s term: the FBI’s violations of constitutional rights under Mueller include infiltrating religious institutions, raiding the homes of activists engaging in First Amendment-protected activities, and large-scale wiretapping beyond even what the PATRIOT Act allows.

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, joined by a coalition of nearly 40 concerned organizations and 2,500 individuals, has launched a campaign urging Congress to allow Mueller’s term as FBI director to expire. To learn more, watch this short video about the FBI’s civil liberties violations and support our petition to Congress.