‘Wired’s attack on immigration reform gets biometrics wrong

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Sen. Marco Rubio’s team is disputing a recent Wired post alleging the immigration reform bill would create “a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S.”

As Rubio spokesman Alex Conant avers, “The legislation does not propose creating a national database of Americans’ biometric data, and any suggestion to the contrary is a misreading of the bill.”

Wired also claimed the bill contains “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.”

That sounds ominous, but in fact, the “Photo Tool” already exists. It basically uses U.S. Passports, Permanent Resident Cards and Employment Authorization Cards to verify identity. If you have a passport or visa photo, you’re probably already in the federal system. And your state’s driver’s license photo may be too — if your state volunteers it.

The bottom line seems to be that Wired and the ACLU (their primary source, it seems) conflated the biometric information that today’s illegal immigrants would be required to submit with a “photo tool” that is already in existence — and would simply be used to crack down on a sort of identity theft.

There is also a semantics problem with the Wired story; photographs, I am told, don’t technically qualify as “biometrics.” Biometrics are unique identifying traits, like DNA or fingerprints. Under the new system, people who are currently illegal — but would be given temporary legal status — would have to submit their fingerprints. American citizens would not, though their photos might be used to confirm identity during the hiring process.

This is merely the latest obstacle proponents of immigration reform have had to confront and debunk, in order to craft a system that would be tough enough to fix the problems that endured after the 1986 bill.

Any E-Verify system that could actually prevent fraud will necessarily be more intrusive than the current system. In this case, an effort is being made to guarantee job applicants actually are who they say they are — that they are not merely stealing someone else’s social security number.

This is not to say we shouldn’t be vigilant in regards to protecting our civil liberties. There is a natural tension at play as immigration reformers work to create a system that actually prevents the employment of illegals who wish to skirt the law.

“Senator Rubio’s goal is to reduce future illegal immigration by creating an effective employment verification system that uses existing public databases, offers alternative ways to establish identity, and establishes an appeals process to protect people’s employment rights,” Conant said.

Matt K. Lewis