By: Zach Portnoy
A new proposal has emerged in the ever-controversial debate on immigration, which would affect not only immigrants, but also U.S. citizens. The proposal, headlined by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), would require all U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who wish to work to obtain biometric, Social-Security ID cards. While many, if not most, of the details are still being hashed out, the general idea is as follows. All employers would be required to scan their workers’ biometric ID cards in order to verify their identities. According to the Senators, “each card’s unique biometric identifier would be stored only on the card; no government database would house everyone’s information. The cards would not contain any private information, medical information, or tracking devices.” The cards would be used in place of the current E-Verify system, which has been not been particularly effective, to prevent unauthorized persons from working in the U.S.
These statements raise a number of questions. First, what type of biometric identification system would be used? Biometrics refers to information about a person’s body, including anything from height and weight to fingerprints and iris scans. The Senators propose that the biometric ID cards would not contain any private or medical information. Yet for the biometric ID cards to work, they necessarily must use a piece of information that is unique, does not change, and is not duplicable. That would seem to fall in line much better with an identifier such as a fingerprint, something that is most definitely private information.
Moreover, the Senators propose that there would be no central database holding everyone’s information. But when employers scan these biometric ID cards, won’t they need some way to independently verify the information? However, a central government database storing unique, biometric information would lead to some serious privacy concerns.
There are numerous other concerns with mandating biometric ID cards. How long would it be before everyone, not just workers were required to carry such a card? And if everyone is carrying a national ID card, how long until it must be shown to travel on airplanes, purchase a gun, or to identify yourself to law enforcement? Each step would seem to be the logical extension of such a program.