The federal government is building a database to identify terror suspects from fingerprints on objects like a tea glass in Iraq or a shell casing in an abandoned Al Qaeda training camp, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Forensic specialists searching for evidence overseas are collecting latent fingerprints in places once occupied by Al-Qaeda and other suspected terrorists. The information is being entered in a computerized system designed to match a name with an unidentified fingerprint. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff calls it “a quantum step forward in security.”
Privacy advocates and civil libertarians are worried. “Our assessment of these systems is that many that are undertaken with a goal of identifying terrorists eventually become systems of mass surveillance directed toward the American public,” says Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security completed a database that collects electronic fingerprints of the index and middle fingers of noncitizens entering the country. The effort prevented 1,300 convicted criminals and immigration law violators from entering, and blocked 1,000 others from gaining visas.