A pair of senators, one red, one blue, have today proposed a biometric ID system to “mend” immigration. It’s part of a bipartisan immigration bill backed by President Obama, and proposes to replace everyone’s social security cards with one that stores biometric information about the individual. But just how practical is the proposal? Perhaps it’s worth casting a look at similar proposals in Britain.
This is how the ID card proposals have evolved in the U.K. Governing party outlines its proposals, which the opposition quickly makes a stand against. Violation of civil liberties, Big Brother state, blah blah. Party in office forges ahead, giving the project an innocuous name, ie Entitlement Cards. Creates database known as National Identity Register. Announces timeline which computer experts say is “highly ambitious.” Makes a muck of it. Costs go up. Movement against gathers steam.
Party in office has partial climb-down, saying that cards will be voluntary, then comes up with cunning wheeze: Make anyone who applies for a passport to go on the National Identity Register. Cost to citizen: $45. Cost to make card: $90. Current spend on card: $300 million. Sign contracts worth $1.5 billion. Recession hits. Realization that rethink is in order. Thinks of ways of marketing the scheme. I know, teenagers can use it as official ID to prove their age! It’s really, really cool, aspazzarently, lets you buy a beer in a pub if you’re over 18. Then they get the oldies on board, suggesting that it should be a replacement to their free bus passes. Estimated cost: $7.6 billion. Looming election–and probable change of Government means that plan will be shelved just as soon as the removal vans have left 10 Downing Street.
Let’s return to the U.S. Both parties admit that there is an immigration problem in the country, with around 11 million people residing in the States illegally. The two senators, Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), will need the scheme to be rolled out universally for this to work. The concept of extracting biometric information from the entire population seems a long shot.
Many people will not be happy with the concept of the state holding an individual’s data. The proposal states that medical records, private information and tracking devices would not be on the cards may, for those people with a bunker at the bottom of their gardens, make them think of one word: Yet.
Biometric data is not a failsafe way of protecting an individual’s data–as last month’s assassination of the Hamas leader in Dubai, when the identities of several British citizens were used when their biometric passports were cloned, shows. Although it is very hard to fake iris scans, fingerprints are a lot easier than you think.
The issue here, however, is not about faking someone’s identity. A week after the British Home Secretary unveiled the Government’s latest ID card policy, it was shown up to be eminently hackable, using just a mobile phone and a computer–in less than 15 minutes. Instead of becoming another person, what you do is make your card look like someone else’s. And that is where the whole idea falls down. The concept of ID cards is that they use failsafe technology, that they are unfalsifiable and that the information on it is true–even when it isn’t.