EPIC filed three Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) to obtain information about the agency’s public testing of a new sensor array used to conduct covert surveillance of individuals who are not suspected of any crime. The sensors secretly collect and record information concerning individuals, including video images, audio recordings, cardiovascular signals, pheromones, electrodermal activity, and respiratory measurements. From EPIC’s first FOIA request filed in June 2011, EPIC received several responsive documents, including emails, contracts, and program descriptions.
EPIC also filed a second, follow-up request in August 2011 and obtained a “Privacy Threshold Analysis” that was referenced in the first set of documents.
More recently, EPIC filed a third FOIA request in October 2014 after new contracting activity began related to the FAST Program.
According to documents published by the Department of Homeland Security, FAST is a “Minority Report” style initiative that seeks to determining the probability that an individual, who is not suspected of any crime, might commit a future criminal act. Under the FAST program, the DHS will collect and retain of a mix of “physiological and behavioral signals” from individuals as they engage in daily activities.
FAST is funded by S&T’s Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, and is managed by S&T’s Human Factors Behavior Sciences Division. FAST is designed to allow the agency capture biological and behavioral information from subjects. According to a 2008 Privacy Impact Assessment prepared by the agency, the DHS intends to monitor and collect data including “video images, audio recordings, cardiovascular signals, pheromones, electrodermal activity, and respiratory measurements.”
News reports state that DHS tested the FAST Project in a public space in early 2011. DHS spokesman John Verrico acknowledged the test. DHS refused to make public the test results. DHS has not provided the location or duration of the test, but has stated that field-testing occurred in the “northeast” and in a “large venue that is a suitable substitute for an operational setting” (but not an airport). The laboratory testing was scrutinized by a 2008 DHS Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA). An Institutional Review Board oversaw testing methodology. The unannounced field test, however, has not been subject to review and DHS failed to perform a new PIA.
In 2011, EPIC filed two FOIA requests regarding the FAST Program and received several responsive documents detailing the scope of the technology, DHS’s plans for public testing, and the agency’s failure to adequately address privacy risks.
EPIC filed a third FOIA request in 2014 after noticing new contracting activity relating to the FAST Program. EPIC requested four categories of documents: (1) all requests for proposals, contracts, grant allocations, and statements of work for performing field testing; (2) technical specifications for data retention from sensors deployed in field testing; (3) recordings of any testing of FAST technologies since 2011; and (4) all documents related to future field testing. After the DHS failed to respond to the FOIA request, EPIC filed a lawsuit against agency in order to obtain the documents requested.