February 4, 2008

Creepy -- Not Necessarily Bad or Wrong, But Creepy All The Same

The FBI wants to collect and amalgamate a variety of biometric data on Americans – not just criminals, but all Americans and a number of non-Americans, too. Seems to me that if the biometric data is given up, either as part of a criminal investigation or voluntarily (for instance, when applying for a security clearance or a government job or even a driver’s license) that the information is no longer private. Thing is, I can’t think of a principled reason to object to the government using public information, which means there is no reason the government can’t amass the public information or compile it into various surveys.

For instance, I had to submit to a fingerprinting to get my license to practice law. That means that the California courts, acting through the State Bar of California, have a copy of my fingerprints. If I had any privacy interest in my fingerprints, I gave that up as a condition of getting my bar card. So that data is actually public. I don’t know if that means you, Reader, can go get a copy of my fingerprints, but it does mean that if I were to be investigated for a crime, the Bar would hand over those fingerprints on request to any investigatory agency, including the FBI, and I couldn’t prevent that from happening. My fingerprints are not private data about me as against the FBI. So if this happens, I will have a file in the FBI with, at minimum, my name and my fingerprints there for the Feds to use whenever they wish. But it’s still kind of creepy.

If this happens, I would want people to have the ability to access their own files and request that corrections be made, perhaps via a FOIA request or something similar, in order to make sure that the government isn’t gathering incorrect data about them. But realistically, only a minute number of Americans would exercise that right or be diligent about monitoring their FBI files. And I’d feel kind of ooky about it, but I can’t really find anything wrong with it.

No comments: