A debate over whether the comprehensive immigration bill currently being discussed in the Senate contains provisions for a national biometric database that would store information about virtually every adult in the United States raises some complicated questions about how willing some Americans are to sacrifice personal privacy in the name of quelling illegal immigration.
A Wired article about a provision buried in the bill drew alarm from conservative and liberal privacy advocates this week. According to the magazine, the bill contains language “mandating the creation of the innocuously-named ‘photo tool,’ a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.”
While the bill makes clear that, for now, the compiled data will be used only to supplement pre-existing e-Verify pre-employment checks, the Wired piece suggests that the “photo tool” could later be used as a tool to track the actions of all Americans by requiring cross-checked photo identification for everything from buying firearms to logging on to the Internet.
“It starts to change the relationship between the citizen and state, you do have to get permission to do things,” Chris Calabrese, a Congressional lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the magazine. “More fundamentally, it could be the start of keeping a record of all things.”
From the bill:
“(iii) PHOTO TOOL.—
“(I) USE REQUIREMENT.—An employer seeking to hire hiring an individual who has a covered identity document shall verify the identity of such individual using the photo tool described in subclause (II).
“(II) DEVELOPMENT REQUIREMENT.—The Secretary shall develop and maintain a photo tool that enables employers to match the photo on a covered identity document provided to the employer to a photo maintained by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services database.
The Daily Beast points out that, with regard to the language in this particular bill, alarmists may be jumping the gun a little bit in saying that The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, S.744, is being used to quietly put into place a system of population control that extends beyond keeping illegal aliens out of the workforce.
Citing language from the bill and interviews with Congressional aides, that article deduces:
- The only data collected under the law that actually qualifies as “biometric” are fingerprints. And the Federal government is not going to take everyone in the Nation’s fingerprint; but rather, would double down on efforts to collect fingerprints of immigrants so that they’re better able to identify people who overstay visas or repeatedly commit immigration offenses.
- In relation to concerns over a possible national photo ID system quietly being formed under the bill, a Congressional aide told The Daily Beast, “The federal government can only access state driver’s license photos if the state and the federal government enter into an agreement to share them; if the federal government were to simply mandate individual states to just turn this information over to the federal government, that would be unconstitutional under US v. Printz.”
Keeping that information in mind, the only way the Federal government could have access to your picture in the e-Verify database would be: 1) you’ve ever applied for a visa, passport or Federal work authorization — in which case, you willingly supplied your picture — or 2) your State enters an agreement with the Federal government to provide its driver license database photos to the system.
Wired’s theory of State drivers licenses becoming a key component of a national ID system does hold water considering how the Federal government has used the threat of withholding pork funding in the past to coax compliance. But it should be of some conciliation to those worried about privacy that the bill does state, quite expressly (p. 180 line 36):
NO AUTHORIZATION OF NATIONAL IDENTIFICATION CARDS.—Nothing in this section may be construed to directly or indirectly authorize the issuance, use, or establishment of a national identification card.
Still, the government’s new ID tool has privacy advocates warning that, because of its potential for other uses, the Nation will be taking one more step down a slippery slope toward a surveillance state, should the bill pass.