FBI wants palm prints, eye scans, tattoo mapping
FBI expected to award $1 billion contract to help collect data on people
Privacy advocate says it's the first step toward a "surveillance society"
FBI says it's needed to help track terrorists and other criminals
Palm prints and optical eye scans likely to become more common
From Kelli Arena and Carol Cratty
CLARKSBURG, West Virginia (CNN) -- The FBI is gearing
up to create a massive computer database of people's physical
characteristics, all part of an effort the bureau says to better
identify criminals and terrorists.
But it's an issue that raises major privacy concerns -- what one civil liberties expert says should concern all Americans.
bureau is expected to announce in coming days the awarding of a $1
billion, 10-year contract to help create the database that will compile
an array of biometric information -- from palm prints to eye scans.
Del Greco, the FBI's Biometric Services section chief, said adding to
the database is "important to protect the borders to keep the
terrorists out, protect our citizens, our neighbors, our children so
they can have good jobs, and have a safe country to live in."
But it's unnerving to privacy experts.
the beginning of the surveillance society where you can be tracked
anywhere, any time and all your movements, and eventually all your
activities will be tracked and noted and correlated," said Barry
Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Technology
and Liberty Project.
already has 55 million sets of fingerprints on file. In coming years,
the bureau wants to compare palm prints, scars and tattoos, iris eye
patterns, and facial shapes. The idea is to combine various pieces of
biometric information to positively identify a potential suspect.
A lot will depend on how quickly technology is perfected, according
to Thomas Bush, the FBI official in charge of the Clarksburg, West
Virginia, facility where the FBI houses its current fingerprint
database. Watch what the FBI hopes to gain »
will still be the big player," Bush, assistant director of the FBI's
Criminal Justice Information Services Division, told CNN.
But he added, "Whatever the biometric that comes down the road, we need to be able to plug that in and play."
up, he said, are palm prints. The FBI has already begun collecting
images and hopes to soon use these as an additional means of making
identifications. Countries that are already using such images find 20
percent of their positive matches come from latent palm prints left at
crime scenes, the FBI's Bush said.
The FBI has also started
collecting mug shots and pictures of scars and tattoos. These images
are being stored for now as the technology is fine-tuned. All of the
FBI's biometric data is stored on computers 30-feet underground in the
In addition, the FBI could soon start
comparing people's eyes -- specifically the iris, or the colored part
of an eye -- as part of its new biometrics program called Next
Nearby, at West Virginia University's
Center for Identification Technology Research, researchers are already
testing some of these technologies that will ultimately be used by the
"The best increase in accuracy will come from fusing
different biometrics together," said Bojan Cukic, the co-director of
But while law enforcement officials are excited about
the possibilities of these new technologies, privacy advocates are
upset the FBI will be collecting so much personal information.
"People who don't think mistakes are going to be made I don't think fly enough," said Steinhardt.
said thousands of mistakes have been made with the use of the so-called
no-fly lists at airports -- and that giving law enforcement widespread
data collection techniques should cause major privacy alarms.
"There are real consequences to people," Steinhardt said. Watch concerns over more data collection »
don't have to be a criminal or a terrorist to be checked against the
database. More than 55 percent of the checks the FBI runs involve
criminal background checks for people applying for sensitive jobs in
government or jobs working with vulnerable people such as children and
the elderly, according to the FBI.
The FBI says it hasn't been
saving the fingerprints for those checks, but that may change. The FBI
plans a so-called "rap-back" service in which an employer could ask the
FBI to keep the prints for an employee on file and let the employer
know if the person ever has a brush with the law. The FBI says it will
first have to clear hurdles with state privacy laws, and people would
have to sign waivers allowing their information to be kept.
Critics say people are being forced to give up too much personal information.
But Lawrence Hornak, the co-director of the research center at West
Virginia University, said it could actually enhance people's privacy.
allows you to project your identity as being you," said Hornak. "And it
allows people to avoid identity theft, things of that nature." Watch Hornak describe why he thinks it's a "privacy enhancer" »
remains the question of how reliable these new biometric technologies
will be. A 2006 German study looking at facial recognition in a crowded
train station found successful matches could be made 60 percent of the
time during the day. But when lighting conditions worsened at night,
the results shrank to a success rate of 10 to 20 percent.
on these technologies continues, researchers are quick to admit what's
proven to be the most accurate so far. "Iris technology is perceived
today, together with fingerprints, to be the most accurate," said Cukic.
in the future all kinds of methods may be employed. Some researchers
are looking at the way people walk as a possible additional means of
The FBI says it will protect all this personal data and only collect information on criminals and those seeking sensitive jobs.
The ACLU's Steinhardt doesn't believe it will stop there.
had started out being a program to track or identify criminals," he
said. "Now we're talking about large swaths of the population --
workers, volunteers in youth programs. Eventually, it's going to be