New Documents Show Se Communities Fuels FBI’s Rapidly Expanding Surveillance System While Ignoring States’ Concer
November 10, 2011, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), and the Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic released internal government documents concerning the controversial Se Communities program (S-Comm), newly obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. Advocates say the documents show that S-Comm, already beleaguered with calls for termination, caused serious internal debate within the FBI at the same time that it served as pretext for the agency to rapidly expand its Next Generation Identification (NGI) initiative, which seeks to collect and distribute massive amounts of biometric information on citizens and noncitizens alike.
An annotated index to the documents is available here.
The new documents reveal that FBI Assistant Director Jerome Pender expressed doubts about S-Comm’s effect on the FBI’s relationship with states and localities, and described the FBI’s position in the S-Comm controversy as “being stuck in the middle of a nuclear war.” Pender wrote: “I don’t see how we can use [fingerprint] data in a way the owner explicitly bans. This could cause the whole CJIS model [of information sharing between the FBI and states and localities] to implode.” (Email chain between Deputy Assistant Director of CJIS’s Operations Branch, Jerome Pender, CJIS Assistant Director, Daniel Roberts, Deputy Assistant Director, Stephen Morris, and other FBI officials, May 10, 2011, FBI-SC-FPL-00487-488).
However, the FBI continued to ignore state and local partners’ demands to limit the use of their data and instead continued to press for S-Comm to be mandatory and expanded data sharing to other domestic agencies and foreign governments.
Said Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Sunita Patel, “It is now crystal clear that the FBI is using Se Communities to experiment on biometric-based surveillance. In pushing for S-Comm and interoperability to be mandatory, the FBI has prioritized collecting personal biometric data on citizens and non-citizens alike for its massive database ahead of the interests of its state and local partners. This is bad policy and no way to operate a federal agency.”
According to the documents, the FBI “recognizes a need to collect as much biometric data as possible . . . and to make this information accessible to all levels of law enforcement, including International agencies.” Accordingly, it “continues to work aggressively to build biometric databases that are comprehensive and international in scope.” (Interoperability Initiatives Unit, FBI CJIS, December 2010, SC-FBI-FPL-1143-1159, at 1143.)
Said Jessica Karp of NDLON, “The rise of the FBI’s surveillance system places all of our civil rights at risk. As Se Communities breaks apart the sacred bond of immigrant families, NGI undermines the basic rights we hold as sacred in a democracy. It’s clear that the FBI and ICE’s pursuit of massive personal biometric data collection as a goal in itself tramples on the rights of individuals and states. Se Communities needs to be ended before more are trapped in its dragnet.”
Said Sonia Lin of the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of the Cardozo School of Law, “In its support for mandatory S-Comm and push to expand NGI, the FBI has ignored serious concerns about community policing, the burden on local and state partners, privacy rights, and the increased risk of racial profiling.”
Visit CCR’s NDLON v. ICE case page, or the joint website UncovertheTruth.org, for the text of the FOIA request, the lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York, other documents obtained through the litigation and all other relevant documents.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit www.ccrjustice.org; follow @theCCR.
The mission of the National Day Laborer Organization Network is to improve the lives of day laborers in the U.S. by unifying and strengthening its member organizations to be more strategic and effective in their efforts to develop leadership, mobilize day laborers in order to protect and expand their civil, labor and human rights. Visit www.ndlon.org
The Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law was founded in 2008 to provide quality pro bono legal representation to indigent immigrants facing deportation. Under the supervision of experienced practitioners, law students in the Clinic represent individuals facing deportation and community-based organizations in public advocacy, media and litigation projects. Visit www.cardozo.yu.edu/immigrationjustice