DHS, USCIS Aim to Expand Authority to Collect Biometric Data, Including DNA

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) component agency want to expand use of biometrics with a new rule that would implement the technology for identity verification, document production, records management, and even to prove familial relationships.

The agency announced today that a forthcoming notice of proposed rulemaking aims to expand its authorities and methods for collecting biometric data. DHS explained that the rule would “modernize” biometrics collection beyond just background checks, and to eliminate its reliance on paper documents.

“This proposed rule eliminates any ambiguity surrounding the department’s use of biometrics, setting clear standards for how and why we collect and use this information,” Ken Cuccinelli, senior official performing the duties of the DHS deputy secretary, said. “Leveraging readily available technology to verify the identity of an individual we are screening is responsible governing. The collection of biometric information also guards against identity theft and thwarts fraudsters who are not who they claim to be.”

The new data collection rule would allow DHS access to individuals’ DNA to verify identity claims. Per the announcement about the new rule, DNA would be used if an individual is unable to provide “sufficient” evidence of a relationship. Specifically, the agency wants to use DNA to establish family units based on genetic relationships to “keep adults who are in custody from misrepresenting themselves as biological parents of minors who are not related to them.”

The rule would also allow biometrics collection via voice, iris, and facial recognition technology to identify individuals without physical contact. Biometric identity verification has been a hot topic at the Federal level as members of Congress look to ban technology such as facial recognition from law enforcement use.

John Wagner, former deputy executive assistant commissioner at DHS’ Customs and Border Protection, defended the use of biometrics in a July exit interview with MeriTalk. “It can be very effective if it used correctly. But depending on how you use it you can get dramatically different results,” he said.

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