TEXAS, April 23, 2013—In the aftermath of the bombing at the Boston Marathon, three people are dead, 170 are wounded, one bomber is dead, one bomber lies in a hospital seriously wounded and charged with using a weapon of mass destruction, and a city, after a week filled with chaos and uncertainty, struggles to return itself to some form of normalcy.
But the deeper tragedy of the events that occurred at the world-renowned endurance contest is the lingering pall of the fear of immigrants that is slowly entering the American mindset, and has many asking their lawmakers for stronger and more definitive legislation to curtail immigration in an effort to combat terror, and prevent future terroristic acts. One such proposal is the creation of a national biometric identification card.
Two of the primary proponents, in what is sure to be a contentious battle to pass legislation requiring biometric identification, are Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York, and Senate Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Their proposal, according to an article the Senators co-wrote earlier this month in the Washington Post, would require all U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who want jobs to obtain a high-tech, fraud-proof Social Security card.
“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 Senators wrote. “The card would be a high-tech version of the Social Security card that citizens already have.”
The Senators also said, “Prospective employers would be responsible for swiping the cards through a machine to confirm a person’s identity and immigration status. Employers who refused to swipe the card or who otherwise knowingly hired unauthorized workers would face stiff fines and, for repeat offenses, prison sentences.” How anyone would know if an employer “refused to swipe the card”, however, was not addressed.
But, what is biometrics, and how would biometric identification work? Put simply, biometrics refers to information about a person’s body. A person’s height, weight, hair color, and eye color, are all simple examples of biometric information. Other examples include the use of body parts such as hands, fingers, feet, teeth, veins, and ears; and physical or behavioral characteristics such as the voice, the structure of the face, gait, and body odors.
However, for biometrics to be an effective identification tool, it has to use information that doesn’t change, or that changes very little; such as fingerprints or DNA sequences. In other words, a biometric identification card can only be effective if it is embedded with information that can be definitively related to the individual carrying it. If it is your card it must bear information that is distinctly yours.
It is common knowledge that the primary purpose of an identification card is to identify the bearer, and control the bearer’s access to places and services. Thus, issuing an ID card without giving “gatekeepers” such as employers, banks, license and permit issuing officials, and state and federal agencies, the capability of verifying the bearer’s information as the Senators suggest, simply would not be very effective.
This means that at some point, for their proposal to have the desired effect, there would have to be a database available that can access the bearer’s information, and quickly relay it back to the inquiring party.
Which should lead us to ask questions like, who will control such a database? What information will be kept in it? Who will have access to it? Then, if we’re really paying attention, maybe we’ll get around to asking other questions. Like, how long will it be before the requirement to have a biometric ID card applies not just to workers, but to all of us? How many of our rights and freedoms are we willing to give away, for the promise of security?
And if we get real serious, we might even ask, does having such a card fundamentally change the ideals we’ve come to cherish as Americans?
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