E-Verify could add biometrics

System could become a vast fingerprinting program

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has begun laying the groundwork for adding a biometric measure — most likely a fingerprint — to the E-Verify federal employment verification system. If he succeeds and the system covers 140 million U.S. workers, it would be one of the largest fingerprinting programs in the country.

Managed by the Homeland Security Department, E-Verify is a Web-based system in which employers check the Social Security numbers of their employees and new hires. Critics point out that individuals who submit stolen Social Security numbers can fool the system, which has no way to verify that the submitted number belongs to the person who provided it.

Schumer, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee, is promoting a biometric-equipped E-Verify as part of the upcoming immigration reform bill.

Schumer held a hearing July 21 in which witnesses described the benefits of adding a biometric identifier to E-Verify. Schumer said it would make it harder to use stolen Social Security numbers. Individuals would provide their fingerprints and verify their identities with a government agency. Then, when seeking work, employees would provide the same information to E-Verify, and the fingerprint match would prove that the employees were using valid identification.

But critics are already raising privacy, cost and effectiveness concerns.

“A biometric solution may be going too far on the path to a national ID card and jeopardizing privacy,” said Jena McNeil, homeland security analyst at the Heritage Foundation. “It seems to open a door to an area that we haven’t explored yet. I think you could kill [E-Verify] by making it too complicated, costly, and too much an invasion of privacy."

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Tue, Aug 4, 2009 Jim Sullivan Atlanta, GA

David brings up a good concerns about how to implement this solution, and fortunately, solutions providers have already addressed these questions. First, there are proven technologies for doing web-based identity confirmation (or even identification) using a web-browser and either a laptop's built-in fingerprint scanners or external USB scanners. Livescan devices are not needed in the field (though they can be used as enrollment devices, they are geared towards solving a different problem,and carry am unnecessarily high cost for widely deploying them). The next generation products from companies like BIO-key International have been in production use by hospitals, blood centers and large corporations such as AT&T for years, doing consumer facing enrollment and identification, all using the web. Note that the fingerprints will never be submitted to the FBI for matching. The FBI's engines are geared towards criminal print searches (such as latent prints at a crime scene) and are intentionally fuzzy for searching for "possible matches." That's why the FBI requires 10 prints to rule someone out as a bad actor on a background check. They aren't accurate enough without all the fingers to not "false match" on searches. On the other hand, these next generation systems that allow verification of a fingerprint scan against a claimed identity, using a proven, NIST certified algorithm is not a throughput challenge. You enroll your fingerprint data with the CIS, binding it to your Social Security Number, and making it provably yours. Now, knowing that number, possessing a $49 fake ID from the internet, and showing up for work won't get you employed. Such a system will instead allow anyone to prove that that SSN is theirs, using your fingerprint. Think about what the broader application of this would do to the whole identity theft and data breach issue - no longer would the disclosure of your SSN mean that your ID could be compromised, since a comprehensive system could assure that you can prove that you own that number with a simple touch of a finger on a web-app. Of course, this would put an end to the monthly fee "burglar alarm" CreditWatch services offered by all the credit bureaus, since it would change the model from one of watching for your identity to be used, to one with a vault around your identity - makes too much sense, but not a big money maker for the Credit Bureaus. As for enrolling people, there are several models already in progress to allow for an in-place network of credentialing specialists to conduct enrollments for those who want to be proactive. At a minimum, just capturing fingerprints and looking for inconsistencies would be of huge benefit. I personally think this system will be like the Do Not Call list, which created a mass push to get on the list, since getting my fingerprints on my SSN would protect it from employment abuse (or more, if the SSA actually uses this, as well!).

Tue, Aug 4, 2009 Adel USA

Good idea!If he succeeds and the system covers 140 million U.S. workers, it would be one of the largest fingerprinting programs in the country.

Sat, Aug 1, 2009 David Mallen Fort Worth, TX

My concern on this issue is how will the prints be collected? E-Verify is currently a free program mandated in several states but optional in others. Many employers take the time to learn the program and complete the verification themselves. Would these employers all have to learn to fingerprint or purchase livescan machines? Or would there be authorized fingeprint/E-Verify centers? The FBI currently processes over 40,000 applicant cards on a daily basis..What other agency is set up to process the amount of cards that will be generated with this new program and can the FBI add the additional cards for the E-Verify program? There are lots of questions that need to be answered.I will be one of the first to volunteer to become a fingerprint center as I am both a fingerprinter and a desiganted agent for the E-Verify program.

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