Six million would-be U.S. immigrants face expanded collection of their biometric data, including iris scans, palm-, and voice-prints, facial recognition images, and DNA, under a proposed federal rule. The Department of Homeland Security also for the first time would gather that data from American citizens sponsoring or benefiting from a visa application.
Years in the making, the biometrics immigration rule has garnered more than 160 comments since its Sept. 11 publication. The 30-day comment period closes on Oct 13. A final version could be in place by Inauguration Day.
Immigration and privacy advocates have voiced concerns over who will have to comply with the new requirements, why President Donald Trump is making this push so late in his term, and what it means for a federal agency already claiming a lack of resources.
“The only words to describe this proposed rule is breathtaking,” said Doug Rand, who worked on technology and immigration policy in the Obama White House and then joined the Federation of American Scientists. “It’s clearly designed to drastically expand surveillance of immigrants, U.S. citizens, employers.”
The 300-plus-page plan updates current biometrics requirements so that “any applicant, petitioner, sponsor, beneficiary, or individual filing or associated with an immigration benefit or request, including U.S. citizens, must appear for biometrics collection without regard to age unless the agency waives or exempts the requirement.”
The DHS estimates an additional 2.17 million new biometrics submissions will be collected annually, an increase from the current 3.9 million, under the rule.
The DHS already collects fingerprints from some visa applicants. The new rule would expand that biometrics-gathering to iris images, palm- and voice- prints. The agency wants authority to require or request DNA testing to prove familial relationships where kinship is in question. The DNA data could be stored indefinitely, under the proposed rule.
While the current proposal doesn’t expressly reference employers, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be applied to employer-backed visa holders down the road, said Michael Nowlan, co-leader of Clark Hill’s Immigration Business unit. “It’s just amazing to me how broad this is.”
One potential scenario for employers petitioning for visa-holding workers or sponsoring foreign workers for green cards is that legal counsel or even a human resources officer may be required to submit biometrics on the company’s behalf.
Should Trump win re-election, his administration can use this period of uncertainty to accelerate this regulation and carry it out in the new year. If Trump loses, and his team makes it final it before Democrat Joe Biden takes office, it’s a “huge headache” for the next administration, Rand said.
“It’s basically like burning down the house on your way out,” Rand said.
This kind of data is dangerous in and of itself. Keeping it in a centralised database is a horrible idea – history has shown us again and again that these are abused and unsafe. And this is data about people that the people themselves, as well as their families, descendants, can’t change. Ever.