March 27, 2006
Joint Letter to United States Senate
Oppose Expansion of the Basic Pilot Employment Verification System as a Threat to American's Privacy
March 27, 2006
The undersigned organizations and individuals urge you to oppose Section 301 of both Chairman Specter's Immigration Mark and S. 2454, the Securing America's Border Act, introduced by Senator Frist. This legislation mandates the use of the Basic Pilot employment verification database by all United States employers to verify the work-eligibility of all current employees and all future hires. The Chairman's Mark, S. 2454, and other similar proposals to expand the Basic Pilot program present a grave threat to the privacy of all Americans. This expansion will lay the groundwork for a national ID system, increase the threat of identity theft and identity fraud, and it will encounter significant technical problems that will cost many Americans their jobs.
Expanding the Basic Pilot program lays the groundwork for a national ID system. This government database will contain extensive information about every American and work-authorized non-citizen in the country. Allowing the government to maintain these kind of files on all Americans and requiring each person to obtain an employment eligibility card is but a short step from implementing a national identification system. Congress has consistently renounced efforts to institute a national ID in the past because of its incompatibility with the core principles of a free society. Do not allow this legislation to slip it in through the back door.
Expanding the employment verification system will not stop unscrupulous individuals from obtaining employment. Instead, it will lead to an increase in identity theft and identity fraud. Any person who wants to sidestep the system can easily steal the identity of a work-authorized individual or purchase fraudulent documents. This will create a whole new market for stolen identities and put Americans at an increased risk. Additionally, the employment verification database itself would be at risk of being hacked, which would expose huge segments of the population to the theft of their identities and the exposure of other private information contained in the database.
The Basic Pilot program is currently used by 3,600 employers. Expanding it to all 8.4 million U.S. employers will pose serious technical obstacles. The system will need to verify the work eligibility of all 146 million people currently employed in the United States, plus 54 million new hires each year. We have already seen, in its current limited usage, the widespread inaccuracies in the data used by Basic Pilot. One in every ten employees must be manually verified by Department of Homeland Security staff after the automatic system fails to match the individual to the necessary data. This rate of failure, multiplied to all employers and all employees in the U.S., will have real consequences for hundreds of thousands of Americans. People could lose their jobs and others will be needlessly denied employment every year.
The Government Accountability Office estimates that this employment verification system will cost $11.7 billion annually. In exchange for this huge investment, the American people will get a system that limits their freedom, exposes them to heightened risk of identity theft, and could unfairly deny them the right to earn a living and support their families. Additionally, it will not prevent determined individuals from circumventing the system and continuing to work illegally. For these reasons, we urge you to oppose Section 301 of both Chairman Specter's Immigration Mark and S. 2454, and similar Senate proposals to expand the flawed Basic Pilot program.
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
American Policy Center
Center for Democracy and Technology
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
Fairfax County Privacy Council
National Center for Transgender Equality
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Republican Liberty Caucus
U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation
Remar Sutton, Founder, Privacy Rights Now Coalition