A national biometric database of virtually every adult in the United States would be created under the comprehensive immigration reform legislation currently being debated in the Senate.
Such a database, introduced on page 178 of the 844-page bill, has privacy groups fearing that it is the first step toward a national identification system, Wired.com reports.
The reform bill would create a “photo tool” — a huge federal database — that would be administered by the Department of Homeland Security, Wired reports
It would contain the names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the nation with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.
Employers would be required to check the database for every new hire to verify that they match their photo, Wired reports.
The database seeks to curb the employment of undocumented immigrants, but privacy advocates fear widespread abuse on many levels.
“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 Wired. “More fundamentally, it could be the start of keeping a record of all things.”
The legislation currently allows the database to be used solely for employment purposes — though such limitations haven’t lasted long historically, privacy advocates say.
They cite the Social Security card, created in 1936 to track individual government retirement benefits.
Now, the number is necessary virtually any major purchase, including 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, the libertarian think tank, agreed.
“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,” Bier told Wired. “It’s like a national ID system without the card.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee has not yet examined this part of the immigration bill, formally known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.
Debate is scheduled to continue on Thursday.
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