Coalition of Asian American organizations opposes FBI request to exempt NGI biometrics database from Privacy Act requirements, cites civil rights concerns

July 6, 2016 – A coalition of Asian American advocacy groups has come out in opposition to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) request to exempt its Next Generation Identification (NGI) system from key provisions of the Privacy Act. In a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the group cited the NGI’s over-enrollment of immigrants, the race-based inaccuracies of facial recognition technologies, and demonstrated discriminatory use of surveillance tools by state and federal agencies as key concerns with the FBI request.

The FBI released the proposed exemptions, which would deny Americans the right to know what information the FBI is storing on them, as well as the ability to correct inaccurate information, in the Federal Register in May. Following pushback from a broad coalition of civil rights groups, privacy advocates, and companies, the DOJ agreed to extend the public comments period to July 6, 2016.

The letter, coordinated by 18MillionRising.org and signed by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, South Asian Americans Leading Together, OCA: Asian Pacific American Advocates, and others, raised “serious questions regarding the scope and accuracy of the NGI database, as well as potential bias in its application, that are of particular concern to us as advocates in the Asian American community.” Advocates also raised concerns that the FBI’s proposed Privacy Act exemptions could lead to increased targeting of political activists.

Members of the coalition issued the following statements:

“We are concerned about the increased use of surveillance and racial profiling by law enforcement. The consequences of these policies and programs disproportionately impact immigrants and communities of color. We cannot let this continue. In a climate where our communities are increasingly under attack, we need law enforcement to protect rather than target us.” - Lakshmi Sridaran, Director of National Policy and Advocacy, South Asian Americans Leading Together

“The NGI database was already incredibly problematic. Inclusion in the database causes very real harm, and it over-includes particularly vulnerable communities, notably people of color and immigrants. To add insult to injury, it is also demonstrably inaccurate. Now the FBI wants to remove the small amount of protection we have against it. That should concern us all.” - Christina Sinha, Staff Attorney, Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus.

“The FBI’s request is emblematic of the secrecy and abuse of power that breeds distrust and fear of law enforcement amongst communities of color and immigrant communities. As a majority-immigrant community, Asian Americans are disproportionately enrolled in the NGI system and thus particularly vulnerable to potential civil rights violations. The most marginalized members of our communities—non-citizens, Muslim Americans, LGBTQ Asian Americans—are most impacted by the FBI’s biometrics system. We need to be concerned about this issue and speak out for the millions it will impact.” - Mark Tseng Putterman, Media Justice Campaigner, 18MillionRising.org

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About 18MillionRising.org (18MR.org): 18MR.org is an unprecedented Asian American Pacific Islander online organizing and civic engagement organization that leverages the power of technology and social media to advocate for justice for our communities and allies. 18MR is comprised of a network of a AAPI activists, artists, organizations, and digital media influencers, ranging from community based organizations and print magazines to Asian American blogs and YouTube channels. By harnessing cutting edge online tools and tried-and-true organizing methods, 18MR.org creates opportunities for popular education and wins campaigns to shift policy, culture, and corporate behavior to help build a more just, equitable society for and with the diverse communities comprising over 18 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders nationwide.