Over two hundred years ago in the debate on the Alien and Sedition Acts, Thomas Jefferson warned Americans that when the “friendless alien” is targeted for repression, the same policies will soon be applied to citizens. That is an apt description of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program misleadingly called ‘Secure Communities’ (S-Comm) which is supposed to identify ‘serious criminals’ for deportation.
Under this secretive program that was first introduced into selected localities (including Boston) in 2008, anyone arrested by the police for any reason whatsoever has his or her biometric fingerprints taken and sent to the FBI. The FBI runs them through its current Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) which contains some 46 million sets of prints and criminal history information.
The fingerprints are also automatically run through the Department of Homeland Security’s automated biometric identification system (IDENT). IDENT holds records of anyone who has been fingerprinted for immigration reasons such as getting a visa, a change of status, becoming naturalized or being stopped at the border. A positive ‘match’ is flagged for ICE, which then can send a ‘detainer’ to the jurisdiction that arrested the person, asking for him or her to be held until an ICE agent can take that person into custody.
Since 2008, some 110,000 people have been deported under S-Comm as resistance to the program has built across the nation. Far from focusing on violent criminals, over a quarter of those who have been deported have no criminal convictions at all, and many more have been convicted of only minor offenses.
What does this program have to do with the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) system? According to documents obtained through a FOIA lawsuit, SCOMM is “the first of a number of biometric interoperability systems” that will make up NGI, which Lockheed Martin has received a $1 billion contact to design.
S-Comm has been both a valuable source of biometric information on all the nation’s arrestees and a critical building block in the implementation of the automated sharing of biometric fingerprints (and soon other biometric information). The FBI has pushed for S-Comm to be mandatory with no ‘opt out’ provisions allowed at the local or state level because it wants to ensure that no state will be able to question its participation in NGI.
Now it is the “friendless alien” who is targeted by IAFIS-IDENT sharing which, ICE says, will be automatic across the nation by 2013. That is when NGI is supposed to be up and running – with eye scans, palm prints, facial recognition images, latent biometric material collected at crime scenes, as well as the biometric fingerprints that are now being collected on all arrestees under S-Comm.
By that time, the US will be well on its way to having a National Identification system that can track all of us as we go about our daily lives.