THE EYES HAVE IT – BEWARE OF BIOMETRICS

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.

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About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
This entry was posted in Bill of Rights, Government, Human Rights, Politics, Rights and Liberties, U.S. Constitution, White House. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to THE EYES HAVE IT – BEWARE OF BIOMETRICS

  1. tng says:

    This is disturbing. I didn’t realize Souder was championing the use of biometrics. At least one form of biometric identification, the fingerprint scanner, has been shown to be both easy to subvert and not necessarily a unique marker. The second is particularly distressing because (as far as the fingerprint scanners are concerned), more than one person can share the same fingerprint. The scanners do not store a photographic image of your fingerprint but rather a string of numbers representing a mere handful of points on your finger. While the number of combinations of the numbers representing the points stored is large, the population is much larger which means that two or more people may share the same fingerprint scanner ID. What good is a system of identification if it doesn’t uniquely identify someone? And as Ben Goldacre points out at the link, who wants to use a form of ID where every time one uses it they leave behind a copy of their ID (in the form of a fingerprint on the glass plate of the fingerprint scanning device).

  2. Souder’s position was just published a few days ago. What is really aggravating is that the minute you challenge some type of security tactic, the proponents of these tactics start trashing with comments like, “Well, if you don’t have anything to hide, what are you worried about?”

    They are very good at putting those who oppose such measures on the defensive.

  3. tng says:

    Yes, that’s an especially specious (and tired) canard. It’s the equivalent of saying that only criminals and terrorists would want to use envelopes when sending mail through the postal system. Identification is both necessary and fraught with difficulties. For example, we all want reasonably reliable identification because no one wants total strangers to be able to withdraw money from our bank accounts or to have access to our personal medical records. Yet there is no perfect system of ID, nor should we rely on any single system. Biometrics could play a role in securing some of our identifications but as being sold by companies such as Digimarc seems akin to grifting to me. They selectively tout the benefits while ignoring both the security concerns and civil rights issues associated with the technology.

  4. Phil Marx says:

    In the 1960’s, the FBI suspected Martin Luther King Jr. of subversive activities, so they tapped his phones. And through this brilliant act of detective work they discovered that King was cheating on his wife.

    Am I defending his actions? No, but that is not the point. The point is that our national security resources were being wasted on exploring a man’s sexual behavior.

    I think anyone who supports over-reaching security measures should be subjected to a full body orifice search (by a man with big hairy knuckles and calloused hands). This should be videotaped so that the public can watch it to know that we are safe.

    Maybe then they’ll realize that security concerns should be weighed against privacy concerns.

  5. Andy says:

    Charlotte –

    I get a little perplexed when I hear someone also say, “Well, if you don’t have anything to hide, what are you worried about?”, in regards to evesdropping and suveillance tactics.

    People tend to forget incidents such as Phil Marx describes. While doing wire-tapping and monitoring all sorts of juicy details may arrise to be used as powerful ammunition to smear and ruin the political and professional careers of many individuals. The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover’s watch, had a habit of sharing potentially damaging information to the presidents he favored, in an attempt to tilt the political scales in the direction he pleased.

    It seems in this age of hysteria, where the word terrorism often incites people to act in irrational ways, Americans are all too eager to give up their civil liberties and personal freedoms.

  6. John R. says:

    As a life-long Republican, I am dismayed that the Republicans–who speak of limited government and Constitutional rights–are the ones pushing the REAL ID Act….and biometrics.

    This issue is something everyone across the political spectrum should recognize as a problem.

    Apparently, both parties love big-government–just in different ways.

    JR

  7. Jeff Pruitt says:

    Last month’s issue of The Atlantic Monthly was their 150th anniversary issue and they asked several prominent writers, politicians, inventors, etc to write an essay on “the American idea” in 300 words or less. David Foster Wallace’s essay was the best IMO and it was about the idea of security vs privacy. I’ve linked to it here but I think you have to be a subscriber to read the whole thing so I’ll throw it up over at FWL later…

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