Biometric Data Measure in Immigration Reform Bill Continues to Concern Privacy Advocates

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A more than 800-page bill for immigration reform, which the Senate has begun debating, carries a measure privacy advocates worry could lead to the creation of a biometric database of every adult in the United States.

The section in the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act called “Identity Authentication Mechanism,” which describes a “photo tool,” is what has some on alert.

The section states that an employer hoping to hire an individual would need to verify the identity of the said person “using the photo tool.” Such a tool would be developed and maintained by the Secretary of State allowing 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.”

Wired has the perspective of privacy advocates regarding this measure:

But privacy advocates fear the inevitable mission creep, ending with the proof of self being required at polling places, to rent a house, buy a gun, open a bank account, acquire credit, board a plane or even attend a sporting event or log on the internet. Think of it as a government version of Foursquare, with Big Brother cataloging every check-in.

“It starts to change the relationship between the citizen and state, you do have to get permission to do things,” said Chris Calabrese, a congressional lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union. “More fundamentally, it could be the start of keeping a record of all things.”

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David Bier, an analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, agrees with the ACLU’s fears.

“The most worrying aspect is that this creates a principle of permission basically to do certain activities and it can be used to restrict activities,” he said. “It’s like a national ID system without the card.”

This isn’t the first time this year the biometric data measure has been discussed. Back in January when the framework was endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), those believing the system could infringe upon civil liberties began voicing their discontent as well.

Biometric Data Measure in Immigration Reform Bill Continues to Concern Privacy Advocates

Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (C) confers with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) (L) during Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup for the immigration reform bill on Capitol Hill May 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. The 18 members of the committee have proposed in excess of 300 amendments to the 844 page piece of legislation that would, if passed, create a path to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Also pictured is Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) (R). (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

USA Today also reported earlier this week that an amendment was proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) that would require biometric data be collected on foreigners leaving the country, a measure Homeland Security tried rather unsuccessfully to institute as a program at airports since 9/11. The amendment would require such a biometric exit data system be established at 10 of the U.S.’s core airports within two years of enactment. After five years, a study on the effectiveness of the system would then allow the appropriate program to be instituted at all 30 airports flying internationally.

“Biometric data provides the government with certainty that travelers (and not just their travel documents) have or have not left the country,” Hatch’s office stated.

USA Today went on to explain that the reason the exit data system hasn’t taken off in the past is due to its expense.

Earlier this year, TheBlaze reported that the Pentagon was already working with a company to create a biometric scanning attachment for smartphones.

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