E-Verify’s biometric database: A huge step toward a permission-slip society

“Maybe we should just brand all the babies.” With this mocking remark, Ronald Reagan dismissed a national ID proposal in 1981. In the 32 years since, Americans have rejected various forms of national ID. But now biometric national ID is back at America’s doorstep, and most Americans don’t even realize.

Inside the Senate’s immigration reform proposal is a section on electronic employment verification. This will mandate employers use a system, known as E-Verify, to check the Form I-9 information of all employees — citizens and immigrants — against a federal database containing their name, Social Security number (SSN), address, date of birth and work authorization status.

The Senate bill expands the current system by reimbursing states for the costs of submitting driver’s license and state ID photos to the database. Unless states refuse the hundreds of millions of dollars allocated by the bill for this purpose, which is highly unlikely, the Department of Homeland Security will have a national biometric identification database that includes every U.S. worker.

Some have argued this is not truly “biometric” because it fails to include fingerprints or retina scans. But biometrics are simply physiological identifiers — as opposed to artificial ones, such as your name or SSN. In fact, as identity expert Jim Harper notes, photos actually include a host of biometric information: facial features, hair color, eye color, skin color, gender, etc.

It’s not just experts who consider photos “biometric” — the U.S. government does as well. Under 46 USC 70123, biometric identification includes “digital photography images” and “facial scan technology.” Using facial recognition software, the digital photos from state IDs and passports will enable DHS to easily identify people with publicly available pictures.

E-Verify also creates a digital history of employers, worksites and locations of E-Verify queries. Such a system is surveillance no matter how benign it may appear initially — it centralizes information on the whereabouts, employment and activities of citizens, and makes that information readily available for a variety of purposes in the future.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), a lead sponsor of the bill, claims this would not be “national ID” because that’s something “you’d have to show whenever a police officer or anyone came up to you.” Of course, national ID would not initially be used in all instances. What is relevant is whether it can be used to identify a person at any given time.

E-Verify, enhanced with photos, creates a system that can do exactly that — it easily can be mobilized to monitor or restrict access to anything. This is not hypothetical. E-Verify’s present purpose is to restrict access to employment — a radical increase in federal control over the workforce.

Although E-Verify currently targets immigrants, the way the system operates shows it can be used to restrict legal activity to anything and that there is no logical or practical limit to its use. It is illegal to rent to unauthorized immigrants, for example, so a logical next step would be to mandate that landlords use E-Verify.