A privacy watchdog has filed a lawsuit contending the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has failed to provide requested technical information about a biometric identification database expected to be the largest in the world.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a nonprofit organisation based in Washington, alleges the FBI failed to disclose documents after it filed two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in September 2012.
EPIC sought information on the FBI's "Next Generation Identification" program, which will amass biometric information on mostly U.S. citizens from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including palm prints and iris scans. New York City's police department began collecting iris scans in 2010 of people who were arrested.
According to the FBI, a multi-million dollar contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin Transportation and Security Solutions to develop the system. When completed, it is expected to be the largest biometric database in the world, according to EPIC's lawsuit.
EPIC said it filed a FOIA request asking for the contracts of companies working on the project, which also include IBM, Accenture, BAE Systems Information Technology, Global Science and Technology, Innovative Management and Technology Services, Platinum Solutions and the National Center for State Courts. In a second FOIA request, EPIC asked for technical specifications related to the program.
The FBI contacted EPIC in October 2012 and asked the group to narrow its scope for the second FOIA request. EPIC said it has not heard back from the FBI since. Agencies are generally required to respond to a FOIA request within a month, but the deadline may be extended if an agency believes the FOIA request is not specific enough.
"Through the date of this pleading, the FBI has not contacted EPIC again regarding the status of either of EPIC's two FOIA requests," EPIC said in its suit.
EPIC's broad concern is the Next Generation Identification program could pose privacy risks since it could include photographs of people who are neither criminals nor suspects. People also may be unaware that data is being collected about them, the lawsuit said. It is also concerned data could be mishandled.
"There is a substantial risk that personally identifiable information could be lost or misused as a result of the creation of the NGI," EPIC's lawsuit said.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. EPIC is requesting the court order the "immediate disclosure of all responsive records and to provide other appropriate relief as it may determine." An FBI spokeswoman said Monday the agency does not comment on pending lawsuits.