The Trump administration on Tuesday announced plans to expand the collection of personal "biometric" information by the immigration enforcement agency, and raised concerns about civil liberties and privacy.
In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said it would shortly make a formal proposal for a new regulation to expand the "authorities and methods" for collecting biometric data, which are physical features such as fingerprints to identify individuals.
US Customs and Border Protection, a component of DHS, is already collecting biometric data, including iris scans, from people arrested while attempting to enter the country without legal authorization.
The DHS said in a written statement that the new rule would allow new techniques, including voice and facial recognition, to verify people's identities.
The Agency has not published the proposed regulation or given details. BuzzFeed News, which received a draft of the policy, reported earlier Tuesday that it contains a provision for U.S. citizenship and immigration services, which is also part of the DHS, to collect biometric data from non-citizens who are legal in the U.S. work and live or try to do so.
In addition, US citizens sponsoring relatives would have to come into the country to provide biometric information, including DNA in some cases, if it were necessary to verify a person's identity.
"This is a remarkable extension of surveillance, particularly the idea that immigrants could be called in at any time to provide this biometric data," said Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Institute for Migration Policy.
It usually takes several months for a new regulation to come into force after a public comment period. This move is likely to present legal challenges, as will most of the immigration measures introduced under President Donald Trump.
Acting Deputy DHS Secretary Ken Cuccinelli described the new regulation in a written statement as a way to improve identity verification and modernize processes.
"Using readily available technology to verify the identity of someone we are investigating is responsible for steering it," said Cuccinelli. "The collection of biometric information also protects against identity theft and foils fraudsters who are not who they say they are."
The DHS is tasked with enforcing the stringent immigration enforcement guidelines that have been a hallmark of the Trump administration. The agency is also responsible for the citizenship and immigration services, which are responsible for ensuring that people can legally live and work in the United States.
An attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy rights watchdog, said there was no justification for expanding the collection of biometric data and no clear rules about how long the information can be kept, how it can be used, and whether it is passed on to foreigners Governments or other agencies can be passed on.
"There doesn't really seem to be any evidence that this will help fight fraud or anything like that," said Saira Hussain, a lawyer for the EFF. "Rather, it's about getting the government to monitor migrant communities by giving them access to some of their most unique and sensitive biometric information."
There are also concerns about data protection. CBP said last year that photos of travelers and their license plates at a border crossing were compromised in a cyber attack on a government businessman.
"The more data you collect and the more sensitive it is, the more the government opens up to potential data breaches," said Hussain.
Andrea Flores, assistant director of politics at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the new policy is a violation of privacy rights and part of a broader administrative effort to curb all immigration.
"They are really trying to stop legal immigration by creating new barriers. In which case they are asking people to share their most personal information and preventing people from signing up and using our legal immigration routes." said Flores, a DHS policy analyst in the Obama administration. "It is said that immigrants are suspicious and not welcome here. If you are related to an immigrant, we are concerned about your presence too."
Dallas associate press writer David Koenig contributed to this report.