Tag Archives: biometrics

Immigration reform bill will create a national biometric database

The so-called Gang of 8* immigration reform amnesty bill, Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, is bad enough, given that:

  • Its total costs are estimated to be $6.3 trillion (!).
  • Two amendments acknowledging same-sex marriage were recently added to the bill by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

* Gang of 8 refers to the four Republicans and four Democrats who are sponsors of the bill. They are Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)

Big Brother is watching

But there is something even worse, something downright sinister, hidden in the 844-page bill: a national biometric database of every adult in the United States.

Biometrics refers to the identification of humans by distinctive measurable characteristics, such as iris scan, DNA or fingerprint.

David Kravets reports for Wired, May 10, 2013:

The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system.

Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation (pdf)  is 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.

Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo.

This piece of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is aimed at curbing employment of undocumented immigrants. 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.”

For now, the legislation allows the database to be used solely for employment purposes. But historically such limitations don’t last. The Social Security card, for example, was created to track your government retirement benefits. Now you need it to purchase health insurance.

“The Social Security number itself, it’s pretty ubiquitous in your life,” Calabrese said.

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.”

For the moment, the debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee is focused on the parameters of legalization for unauthorized immigrants, a border fence and legal immigration in the future.

The committee is scheduled to resume debate on the package next Tuesday.

~Eowyn

Beware of hospitals asking for your palm print

Some hospitals are now asking their patients to scan their palms, ostensibly to compile a biometric data base to prevent identity theft.

Don’t do it! Nor is the palm scan mandatory; it’s purely optional. But they won’t volunteer that information unless you ask.

palm print scan

Natasha Singer reports for the New York Times, Nov. 10, 2012, that she was told they needed to scan her palm “for her file” when she recently visited a doctor’s office at New York University Langone Medical Center.

Singer balked. As she explains: “As a reporter who has been covering the growing business of data collection, I know the potential drawbacks — like customer profiling — of giving out my personal details. But the idea of submitting to an infrared scan at a medical center that would take a copy of the unique vein patterns in my palm seemed fraught.”

Despite her reservations, Singer still complied. Next, they wanted to take her photo. Only then did an office manager appeared and explained that the scans and pictures were optional. But by then, Singer’s palm print was already in their system.

Consumer advocates are sounding the warning that more and more institutions are employing biometric data “to improve convenience,” but we are paying for that convenience with the loss of our privacy.

Fingerprints, facial dimensions and vein patterns are unique, and should be treated as carefully as genetic samples. So collecting such information for expediency could actually increase the risks of serious identity theft. Yet companies and institutions that compile such data often fail to adequately explain the risks to consumers.

Pam Dixon, the executive director of the San Diego-based advocacy group World Privacy Forum explains: “Let’s say someone makes a fake ID and goes in and has their photo and their palm print taken as you. What are you going to do when you go in? Hospitals that are doing this are leaping over profound security issues that they are actually introducing into their systems.”

N.Y.U.’s system, called PatientSecure and marketed by HT Systems of Tampa, has already scanned more than 250,000 patients. In the United States, over five million patients have had the scans, said Charles Yanak, a spokesman for Fujitsu Frontech North America, a division of Fujitsu, the Japanese company that developed the vein palm identification technology.

Yet, unless patients at N.Y.U. seem uncomfortable with the process, medical registration staff members don’t inform them that they can opt out of photos and scans. Neither does N.Y.U. have formal consent, which raises red flags for privacy advocates. “If they are not informing patients it is optional,” said Joel Reidenberg, a professor at Fordham University Law School with an expertise in data privacy, “then effectively it is coerced consent.”

He noted that N.Y.U. medical center has had recent incidents in which computers or USB drives containing unencrypted patient data have been lost or stolen, suggesting that the center’s collection of biometric data might increase patients’ risk of identity theft.

At her request, N.Y.U. medical center did delete Singer’s palm print.

Here’s what to do if a hospital, doctor’s office, or some other institution wants to scan your palm, take your photo, or obtain some other biometric information from you:

  • Calmly ask if what they’re asking is mandatory (required) or optional.
  • If it’s optional, say “No.”
  • If mandatory, ask to see a written statement of that policy and where in law does it say the institution has the right to your information.

~Eowyn

Jello for Adults Only – What Would Bill Cosby Say?

Jell-O uses facial biometrics to dispense “adults only” desert

As part of Jell-O’s new campaign to promote its latest desert the company is giving away free samples using a sophisticated vending machine that uses facial biometrics to keep children away.

“Temptations,” Jell-O’s new pudding is meant to be for “adults only,” so to ensure that children are not getting any free samples, its new vending machines will use facial recognition technology.  Full Story

~LTG