Privacy SOS

From the war on terror to the war at home: FBI seeks smaller, faster biometric collection tools


In the latest example of surveillance technology trickling down from the foreign war space to the domestic United States, the FBI is seeking proposals for the creation of fast, mobile biometric tracking devices capable of collecting face recognition prints and fingerprint scans on the go, and comparing them to information held in federal databases.

On August 30, 2015, the FBI posted a request for proposals to the Federal Business Opportunities website. That request states, in part:

The Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division’s Quick Capture Platform (QCP) is a state-of- the-art biometric system that enables investigators to collect and store fingerprint data during domestic and international investigations. The QCP enables instant access to federal fingerprint databases. This comprehensive access to the main United States (U.S.) Government biometric holdings enables QCP users to quickly establish whether a subject has possible terrorist links (in the U.S. or abroad) or is likely to pose a threat to the U.S.

The QCP originated in 2007, as an investigative tool for use by the FBI Hostage Rescue Team during operations conducted overseas. The purpose was to develop a platform capable of providing a rapid collection and response in hostile environments. Since the QCP’s inception, the FBI’s need for a tool that is capable of biometric collection, as well as providing rapid responses, has expanded from supporting overseas investigations to include increased domestic use.

Currently the FBI’s mobile biometric capture and identification platform is used to provide remote identification submission and response capabilities. The platform provides the capability to capture biometric and biographic information, package it in a transaction that conforms to the FBI’s Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification (EBTS), and send it electronically to the CJIS systems for searching/matching/enrollment of biometric data.

The current QCP has a large footprint, typically stored in backpacks or Pelican cases and not optimized for mobile operations. Future platforms should be made smaller to increase mobility and ease of use. The platforms are not designed to fully utilize the current and future CJIS Information Technology infrastructure.

In short: the FBI wants a company to help it miniaturize its biometric collection technology for domestic use. The technology the FBI seeks will work in concert with Android cell phones and tablets, specifically the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4. The FBI specifies that it wants technology capable of booting in under a minute, and which can boot, take biometric measurements, and submit them to the FBI’s database in under five minutes.

This request for proposals is just the latest example of the federal government’s quiet expansion of biometric tracking. The 2015 omnibus budget, for example, includes $117 million for the purchase of rapid DNA testing machines for state and local law enforcement. The FBI runs the nation’s largest DNA database, CODIS. Therefore state and local police who obtain these machines will use them to send DNA samples to the FBI database for matching tests. Presumably, like with other biometrics, the FBI will keep those records, thereby exponentially expanding its DNA collection on people nationwide, many of whom will never be convicted of any crimes.

The FBI’s “Biometrics Center of Excellence” and “Next Generation Identification” system aim to harvest as much biometric information from as many people worldwide as possible. Technologies like the biometrics phone app the FBI seeks with this request will make ubiquitous collection possible, particularly when state and local law enforcement get their hands on the devices.

If history is any indication, it will only be a matter of time until the federal grants start flowing so local cops can get these toys, too. And while the FBI claims it needs this technology to identify terrorists, it’s much more likely that this tool will ultimately become just one more weapon in the arsenal the government deploys to wage an immoral, discriminatory war on drugs against black and brown communities nationwide.

That is, unless we stop it.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.