Privacy SOS

Head of fusion center lobbying group to serve as advisor to biometrics company board of directors

CrossMatch, a large biometrics firm that does millions of dollars of business with government agencies, has announced that the executive director of the National Fusion Center Association, a former DHS Grant Programs Directorate administrator, recently became an advisor to its board of directors.

The former DHS grant administrator, Ross Ashley III, who during his tenure at DHS most likely oversaw the allocation of government funds to CrossMatch for federal, state and local law enforcement purchase of “livescan” biometric fingerprint readers, will “provide strategic guidance to the company as it continues to expand its global presence into traditional and emerging markets for identity management solutions.”

You may have put your hands on one of CrossMatch’s pieces of equipment before; the company’s website boasts that it was “[c]hosen for the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. VISIT program, Department of State’s Visa program, and numerous other U.S. and foreign government biometric deployments.” That means any non-citizen who has traveled through a US airport or applied for a visa in recent years has likely touched a CrossMatch livescan device. The company was the first biometrics livescan firm to receive DHS 'Safety Act' designation, which shields it from lawsuits related to terrorist attacks.

Revolving door meets terrorism industry

The burgeoning ‘homeland security’ industry is worth billions of dollars, and so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to find that the kind of ‘revolving door’ system that pervades big money US politics would find a comfortable home there. 

The revolving door syndrome has long fostered a 'fox guarding the chicken coop' problem in government: In industries as diverse as agribusiness, war and banking, powerful, well-connected people leave positions in government to take higher paid lobbying positions with corporations, or corporate officers leave the private world to work in government.

Unsurprisingly, the revolving doors usually feed in and out of the same industries: bankers tend to become Treasury Secretaries or SEC chiefs, and former military officials tend to work in the military industrial complex after they retire from public employment. 

There are risks to public health and democracy in all of these contexts, but the revolving door is an especially pernicious threat when our rights are in the crosshairs. 

As the director of the National Fusion Center Association, the new Cross Match board advisor will most likely have the opportunity to advise the 70-some fusion centers nationwide about technology procurements. The Association's mission states that it will:

 

Provide an independent and consolidated voice for state and major urban area fusion centers;  
 
[snip]
 
Serve as a catalyst for the careful consideration and promotion of effective and efficient fusion center policies and practices;
 
Advocate for the commitment of adequate resources to support a national, integrated network of state and major urban area fusion centers… [emphasis mine]

But the counsel the Association provides to the feds as well as to state and local governments can't truly be "independent" if the head of the organization serves as an advisor to the board of directors of a technology company that stands to gain millions of dollars from the "policies and practices" of and allocation of resources to the fusion centers.

What we really need to do is ensure that people at the local level, who are actually policed and spied upon by — and pay for! — the fusion centers, play a central role in determining what kinds of technologies the centers acquire, and what rules they establish to govern them. Well connected industry insiders — who may in fact stand to gain financially from particular policy decisions — shouldn’t be the only ones with a voice when it comes to the future of local and state policing in the US.


 

The full “Planet Biometrics” report on Ashley’s appointment at CrossMatch is copied below:

Cross Match Technologies has announced that the Honorable W. Ross Ashley III will serve as advisor to the board of directors. In that role, Mr. Ashley will provide strategic guidance to the company as it continues to expand its global presence into traditional and emerging markets for identity management solutions.

Mr. Ashley currently serves as the executive director of the National Fusion Center Association (NFCA) where he represents the interests of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recognized fusion centers. Mr. Ashley also serves on the board of advisors to numerous corporate clients advising in the areas of intelligence, homeland security, justice and defence.

Mr. Ashley was confirmed by the United States Senate in December 2007 and served as the assistant administrator of the DHS Grant Programs Directorate (GPD) until August of 2009 where he managed over US$10 billion per year in federal assistance programs. Assistant Administrator Ashley was one of the few Senate confirmed individuals asked to remain in the President Obama Administration after the inauguration.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.