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White House seeks to expand biometric data collection of immigrants

This week a proposed White House policy came to light that could jeopardize the privacy of millions of U.S. immigrants – as well as some U.S. citizens. The proposed measure would require anyone associated with an immigration application process to provide highly sensitive biometric information to the government – which would be kept in perpetuity.

Here’s what the proposed change is, and why it matters:

What is required now

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been collecting some biometric data on certain immigrants for a while. Anyone age 15 or older applying for certain immigration benefits has been required to provide the following:

  • Fingerprints
  • Photograph
  • Signature

What could be required

If the proposed policy takes effect, the USCIS could also collect the following, significantly more private data:

  • Eye scans
  • Voice prints
  • DNA
  • Photograph for facial recognition

In addition, the government would be allowed to request this data at any time from any immigrant who has a work permit, green card or other benefit – all the way up until the time they become a U.S. citizen.

Furthermore, the proposed policy expands who all would be required to submit such data – to include any applicant and anyone associated with the immigration benefit. This would include U.S. citizen sponsors as well as child applicants under the age of 15.

Why this is concerning

The proposed policy raises real privacy concerns and offers no clear pay off.

One former USCIS official openly condemned the proposed policy – pointing out that the current administration is attempting to exploit general language in the law to gather and permanently store highly personal information on a huge swath of the population. In addition, there seems to be no real necessity for collecting this information.

A policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute echoed these concerns, stating that this action by the White House amounts to a form of “extreme vetting” that is far over the line of what is necessary. A director at the American Civil Liberties Union noted that such data collection does nothing to make us safer. Instead, it makes it easier for the government to “surveil and target” immigrant communities.

The United States is founded of principles on justice and equality for all – especially immigrants. This proposed measure would directly contradict that. As we continue to monitor the situation, we will hope for a just outcome.

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