Civil liberties groups fight biometric IDs

ACLU, other groups oppose plan for biometric Social Security cards

Civil liberties organizations oppose a proposal by two senators to require biometric Social Security cards for U.S. workers in an effort to curb illegal immigration.

Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) published an article March 19 that outlined several principles they intend to include in immigration reform legislation, and described a requirement for biometric Social Security cards “to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs.”

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union, American Libraries Association and about 40 other groups and individuals wrote to the White House officials and members of Congress on April 13 to urge them to reject a biometric national ID card because the groups claim it would invade privacy, allow for troubling government controls and be risky and expensive.

“A National ID would not only violate privacy by helping to consolidate data and facilitate tracking of individuals, it would bring government into the very center of our lives by serving as a government permission slip needed by everyone in order to work,” states the letter from the ACLU and the other groups.

The organizations also contend it would cost approximately $285 billion to issue a biometric ID card to each American. That estimate is based on an extrapolation of the Homeland Security Department’s estimated $1.9 billion cost of issuing identity credentials to a million transportation workers under the Transportation Workers Identity Credential program, the groups wrote. The cost would likely be covered by fees to obtain the cards, they added.

The letter writers also contend that a biometric Social Security card system would not be effective without establishing a central electronic repository of Americans’ personal information, which would risk of identity theft.

“Without recordkeeping, the same Social Security number and birth certificate could be used again and again to issue new cards to different people – defeating the entire purpose of the system,” the organizations wrote.

Currently, unauthorized workers often circumvent laws by using stolen or borrowed Social Security numbers, and current U.S. systems to verify workers' Social Security numbers, such as E-Verify, have very imited ability to detect identity theft.

Schumer and Graham did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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

Sat, Apr 17, 2010

I am a New Yorker, and up until now I liked Charles Schumer, but I think that biometric ID's are such an assault on the privacy of Americans (and world citizens), and give the governments such incredible power over everyone, that we should vote both Schumer and Graham out of office in order to send a VERY clear message that we will not be traced and followed everywhere we go every day of our lives. If we think that terrorism is a fearful thing, that is nothing compared to giving our governments unlimited power over our privacy. Anyone who thinks that this power cannot and will not be used is a total fool.

Thu, Apr 15, 2010

The capability of building an anonymous and secure biometric database has existed in the private sector for years (patented in 2005). Detecting the use of stolen IDs is also routinely done well in the private sector, but the government lags far behind in deploying this capability.

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