WASHINGTON (CN) – A government watchdog that won records on the FBI’s massive biometric-identification database is entitled to attorneys’ fees, a federal judge ruled.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, sued the FBI in 2013 for records on its Next Generation Identification program (NGI), a biometric-identification system that EPIC says can identify noncriminal civilians through iris scans, DNA, and facial and voice recognition.
EPIC filed two requests for records on NGI under the Freedom of Information Act in 2012, but the FBI dragged its feet, citing a backlog of FOIA requests and limited resources.
After EPIC filed suit, the FBI released nearly 600 pages of records regarding NGI deals with private contractors. A federal judge then ordered the bureau to release all nonexempt materials from 7,380 pages of potentially responsive records.
EPIC asked the court for $15,851.50 in fees for the matter, but the FBI argued that the group was entitled only to the $350 that it spent on filing the complaint.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled for EPIC on Wednesday.
“In light of the well-established precedent in this circuit, the court finds that EPIC is eligible for attorneys’ fees and costs because it substantially prevailed by obtaining production of responsive documents pursuant to the court’s June 28, 2013, order, which approved the parties’ stipulated production date,” she wrote.
The judge added: “The FBI’s arguments to the contrary are quickly dispatched.”
EPIC had argued that the NGI system will be able to identify people through fingerprints, iris scans, DNA profiles, voice-identification profiles, palm prints and photographs, as well as facial recognition.
“The NGI database will include photographic images of millions of individuals who are neither criminals nor suspects,” its complaint alleged.
The Department of Homeland Security dumped “hundreds of millions of dollars” into the system, EPIC says, and wants to integrate it into state and local surveillance systems that may use other surveillance technology, giving the government the capability of real-time matching of live feeds from surveillance cameras.
There are an estimated 30 million surveillance cameras in the United States, but not all of them will be used for law enforcement purposes, the group adds.
Private entities will also have access to the system, it claims.
EPIC’s FOIA requests dealt with the FBI’s contracts with Lockheed Martin, IBM, Accenture, BAE Systems Information Technology, Global Science & Technology, Innovation Management & Technology Services, Platinum Solutions, the National Center for State Courts, and any other entities involved with NGI.
Though Chutkan awarded EPIC fees, she retooled the group’s calculations, removing triple-billed telephone calls and reducing the hourly rate of one of EPIC’s attorneys to his 2013 rate. The total comes to $19,932 in attorneys’ fees and costs, about $2,000 less than EPIC’s demand.
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