Mark Souder has become a crusader for biometrics identification (ID) cards; however, he admits the political climate is not yet ripe. That statement alone indicates he must think sometime in the future it will be ripe.
Biometrics is, generally, the study of measurable biological characteristics. In computer security, biometrics refers to authentication techniques that rely on measurable physical characteristics that can be automatically checked. We are already seeing biometrics in everyday life. For example, the fingerprint requirement at banks for “non-customers” as well as at some larger stores for check cashing purposes.
There are several types of biometric identification schemes:
- face: the analysis of facial characteristics
- fingerprint: the analysis of an individual’s unique fingerprints
- hand geometry: the analysis of the shape of the hand and the length of the fingers
- retina: the analysis of the capillary vessels located at the back of the eye
- iris: the analysis of the colored ring that surrounds the eye’s pupil
- signature: the analysis of the way a person signs his name.
- vein: the analysis of pattern of veins in the back if the hand and the wrist
- voice: the analysis of the tone, pitch, cadence and frequency of a person’s voice
Souder has taken up the biometric cause from his spot as the top GOP member on the House Homeland Security Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee. Our Third district is also home to a facility owned by Beaverton, Oregon-based Digimarc Corporation, a producer of 32 states’ drivers licenses, including some with biometric information.
Opponents of biometrics feel that there are lots of ways that biometrics are not as reliable and infallible as people tend to think they are. Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation states, “I would argue that the burden of proof is on the proponents of biometrics to show that it is actually going to be workable as security.”
According to Tien, a major reason biometric technologies do well in labs but perform poorly when implemented is because lab tests haven’t sufficiently simulated people trying to defeat the system. All the while, Tien argues, citizens would pay a steep toll in terms of personal privacy if they had to submit biometric identifiers.
Supporters of increased use of biometrics argue that that is precisely the point — being able to identify, track and monitor bad actors so you know who they are and where they are is essential for national security. But who is bad? And how many non-bad “actors” will get swept into the system?
And, aside from the increased security, there would be practical effects that would improve people’s lives, supporters say.
For example, passengers who are commonly confused with someone listed on the no-fly list could clear the matter up in a few short minutes if they are carrying a biometrically enabled ID card and airport security personnel are equipped with a reader that can verify or disprove a match.
In addition to helping to create an adequate redress process and greater security for airline passengers, Souder said biometrically enabled ID cards would help other homeland security agencies to perform their functions better:
• Immigration and Customs Enforcement could go into American companies and accurately ensure that they are not employing illegal residents.
• Customs and Border Protection could accurately identify people attempting to enter the country via a land or sea port of entry.
• State and local police could identify potential threats when they are enforcing traffic and other domestic laws.
• Bank tellers could ensure that legitimate people are the ones removing or adding money to an account.
Souder is considering drafting a bill that would give financial incentives or direct funding to states that include biometrics when implementing the Real ID Act (PL 109-13). Remember, that is the 2005 law requiring states to comply with minimum security standards for issuing driver’s licenses or identification cards or risk having those IDs cease to be accepted for boarding flights or entering federal buildings.
Souder says he is taking a “patient approach”, assuming time and circumstance are on his side. Let’s prove him wrong.
Keep your eyes peeled on this issue – pardon the pun – because I can assure you, given the Bush administration’s rule by fiat and secrecy, we will see it pushed, and it sounds like Mark Souder is in the forefront of that push.
Let’s hope the American people never let themselves be cowed into accepting a national ID card in the form of biometrics. At some point, enough is enough.