Even the strongest privacy advocates should not dismiss biometric
surveillance, like scanning crowds for the facial characteristics of
criminals, out of hand. The public benefits are too substantial.
Biometric surveillance may make air travel and any large event (like the
Olympics) eminently safer because terrorists or rioters — even pickpockets and
purse-snatchers — will be aware that they could be identified and apprehended
even before they act. Biometric surveillance is a strong deterrent to crime.
People do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the
appearance of their faces or other biometrics that are visible or left
behind when they appear in public, including DNA information in sloughed
off skin or hair. People do have a reasonable expectation, as innocents,
that this information will not be compiled by the government, however. Biometric
scanning technology should not be used to monitor for anyone other than people
reasonably suspected of crime.
Law enforcement should be required to dispose of the biometric data of innocents
once an investigation has closed. They should probably be able to
keep biometric data on people convicted of serious crimes. Convicted
criminals lose many rights, and freedom from most monitoring is probably one
Congress should protect privacy and reassure the public with a law
articulating appropriate and inappropriate uses of biometric information by
government. It has authority to do so under section five of the Fourteenth
Amendment, which gives it power to enforce the Fourth
Amendment by statute.