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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