DHS Released: Privacy Impact Assessment for the “Immigration Benefits Background Check Systems"

Posted On: December 10, 2010

On November 5, the Department of Homeland Security released a Privacy Impact Assessment for the “Immigration Benefits Background Check Systems.” Every applicant seeking immigration benefits is required to undergo background checks administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Each applicant’s check includes cross-references against systems within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). The information collected through the background checks is gathered by five main technology electric systems. The new Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) released by Homeland Security will replace any previous publications on planned background related systems and is part of an effort by USCIS to streamline the process, reducing the risk of an invasion into applicant’s privacy.

The background check is a way for USCIS to determine the applicant’s legitimacy for the benefit. The applicant must go through four background checks: a FBI fingerprint, the US-VISIT’s Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) fingerprint, the FBI name check, and the TECS name check. An applicant can choose to decline to provide information under the Privacy Act Notice but doing so will result in the denial of the immigration benefit requested.

In investigating the current background check procedures, the Privacy Impact Assessment found that with all the technologies used, many outdated and overly complex, it’s likely one will fail. USCIS has also put into practice increasing measures to restrict access to the systems to authorized personnel only, preventing the misuse of any data. In addition, to reduce the unnecessary duplication of data, USCIS is developing a more centralized system as a part of their “Transformation Initiate.”

The information collected through background checks such as fingerprints and biographical data can be used in the future if an applicant were to commit a crime or become a subject of national security. Measures are also taken to ensure that information submitted by an applicant is true and that all information uploaded to the database is correct.

Information is stored in the Fingerprint Masthead Notification System (FMNS) for 60 days, no information is ever stored in the Customer Identity Capture System (CICS), 75 years in the FD-258 Tracking System- Mainframe, paper records are kept 100 years from the applicant’s date of birth, biographical and name check results are retained for 180 days, and the Benefits Biometrics Support System (BBSS) data is stored indefinitely.