Chertoff Says Fingerprints Aren’t ‘Personal Data’

Our guest blogger, Peter Swire, is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and served as the Clinton Administration’s Chief Counselor for Privacy.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has badly stumbled in discussing the Bush administration’s push to create stricter identity systems. Chertoff was recently in Canada discussing, among other topics, the so-called “Server in the Sky” program to share fingerprint databases among the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia.

In a recent briefing with Canadian press (which has yet to be picked up in the U.S.), Chertoff made the startling statement that fingerprints are “not particularly private”:

QUESTION: Some are raising that the privacy aspects of this thing, you know, sharing of that kind of data, very personal data, among four countries is quite a scary thing.

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Well, first of all, a fingerprint is hardly personal data because you leave it on glasses and silverware and articles all over the world, they’re like footprints. They’re not particularly private.

Many of us should rightfully be surprised that our fingerprints aren’t considered “personal data” by the head of DHS. Even more importantly, DHS itself disagrees. In its definition of “personally identifiable information” — the information that triggers a Privacy Impact Assessment when used by government — the Department specifically lists: “biometric identifiers (e.g., fingerprints).”

Chertoff’s comments have drawn sharp criticism from Jennifer Stoddart, the Canadian official in charge of privacy issues. “Fingerprints constitute extremely personal information for which there is clearly a high expectation of privacy,” Stoddart said.

There are compelling reasons to treat fingerprints as “extremely personal information.” The strongest reason is that fingerprints, if not used carefully, will become the biggest source of identity theft. Fingerprints shared in databases all over the world won’t stay secret for long, and identity thieves will take advantage.

A quick web search on “fake fingerprints” turns up cheap and easy methods for do-it-at-home fake fingerprints. As discussed by noted security expert Bruce Schneier, one technique is available for under $10. It was tried “against eleven commercially available fingerprint biometric systems, and was able to reliably fool all of them.” Secretary Chertoff either doesn’t know about these clear results or chooses to ignore them. He said in Canada: “It’s very difficult to fake a fingerprint.”

Chertoff’s argument about leaving fingerprints lying around on “glasses and silverware” is also beside the point. Today, we leave our Social Security numbers lying around with every employer and numerous others. Yet the fact that SSNs (or fingerprints) are widely known exposes us to risk.

There have been numerous questions raised about how this Administration is treating our personal information. Secretary Chertoff’s comments show a new reason to worry — they don’t think it’s “personal” at all.

Peter Swire

Source: thinkprogress.org

Administration Set to Use New Spy Program in U.S.

The Bush administration said yesterday that it plans to start using the nation’s most advanced spy technology for domestic purposes soon, rebuffing challenges by House Democrats over the idea’s legal authority.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said his department will activate his department’s new domestic satellite surveillance office in stages, starting as soon as possible with traditional scientific and homeland security activities — such as tracking hurricane damage, monitoring climate change and creating terrain maps.

Sophisticated overhead sensor data will be used for law enforcement once privacy and civil rights concerns are resolved, he said. The department has previously said the program will not intercept communications.

Read moreAdministration Set to Use New Spy Program in U.S.

Homeland Security invokes nuclear bomb, as Bush quietly links cybersecurity program to NSA

Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff has dropped the bomb.

At a speech to hundreds of security professionals Wednesday, Chertoff declared that the federal government has created a cyber security “Manhattan Project,” referencing the 1941-1946 project led by the Army Corps of Engineers to develop American’s first atomic bomb.

According to Wired’s Ryan Singel, Chertoff gave few details of what the government actually plans to do.

He cites a little-noticed presidential order: “In January, President Bush signed a presidential order expanding the role of DHS and the NSA in government computer security,” Singel writes. “Its contents are classified, but the U.S. Director of National Intelligence has said he wants the NSA to monitor America’s internet traffic and Google searches for signs of cyber attack.”

The National Security Agency was the key player in President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was revealed by the New York Times in 2005.

Sound familiar? Yesterday, documents acquired by the Electronic Frontier Foundation under the Freedom of Information act showed the FBI has engaged in a massive cyber surveillance project that targets terror suspects emails, telephone calls and instant messagesand is able to get some information without a court order.

Last week, the ACLU revealed documents showing that the Pentagon was using the FBI to spy on Americans. The military is using the FBI to skirt legal restrictions on domestic surveillance to obtain private records of Americans’ Internet service providers, financial institutions and telephone companies, according to Pentagon documents.

Read moreHomeland Security invokes nuclear bomb, as Bush quietly links cybersecurity program to NSA

DHS reckons US cops’ access to sat-surveillance is go

US Homeland Security overlord Michael Chertoff has told reporters that he believes plans for increased use of satellite surveillance by American law-enforcement agencies are ready to move forward. However, Democratic politicians remain unconvinced that adequate privacy and civil liberties safeguards are in place.

“I think the way is now clear to stand NAO up and go warm,” said Chertoff, briefing journalists about the proposed National Applications Office.

NAO would allow US police, immigration, drug-enforcement and other officials to have access to data from various US satellites passing above America. It is understood that the information would be supplied mostly by spacecraft which at the moment are used for meteorological and geological surveying, or other scientific tasks. Satellites of this type can often deliver high-resolution images which would also be useful to law enforcement.

Read moreDHS reckons US cops’ access to sat-surveillance is go

10-Year U.S. Strategic Plan For Detention Camps Revives Proposals From Oliver North

Editor’s Note: A recently announced contract for a Halliburton subsidiary to build immigrant detention facilities is part of a longer-term Homeland Security plan titled ENDGAME, which sets as its goal the removal of “all removable aliens” and “potential terrorists.” Scott is author of “Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003). He is completing a book on “The Road to 9/11.” Visit his Web site at http://www.peterdalescott.net.

The Halliburton subsidiary KBR (formerly Brown and Root) announced on Jan. 24 that it had been awarded a $385 million contingency contract by the Department of Homeland Security to build detention camps. Two weeks later, on Feb. 6, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced that the Fiscal Year 2007 federal budget would allocate over $400 million to add 6,700 additional detention beds (an increase of 32 percent over 2006). This $400 million allocation is more than a four-fold increase over the FY 2006 budget, which provided only $90 million for the same purpose.

Both the contract and the budget allocation are in partial fulfillment of an ambitious 10-year Homeland Security strategic plan, code-named ENDGAME, authorized in 2003. According to a 49-page Homeland Security document on the plan, ENDGAME expands “a mission first articulated in the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.” Its goal is the capability to “remove all removable aliens,” including “illegal economic migrants, aliens who have committed criminal acts, asylum-seekers (required to be retained by law) or potential terrorists.”

There is no question that the Bush administration is under considerable political pressure to increase the detentions of illegal immigrants, especially from across the Mexican border. Confrontations along the border are increasingly violent, often involving the drug traffic.

Read more10-Year U.S. Strategic Plan For Detention Camps Revives Proposals From Oliver North