Comprehensive Immigration Reform Must Respect Civil Liberties And Privacy, Says ACLU

April 13, 2010

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Must Respect Civil Liberties And Privacy, Says ACLU

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 13, 2010

CONTACT: (202) 675-2312; media@dcaclu.org

WASHINGTON – A broad coalition of groups today sent a letter to the White House, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee urging them to oppose a proposal by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that would include a biometric national ID card in comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Signatories are from across the political spectrum and include advocates for privacy, consumer rights, gun owners, limited government and religious liberty.

A biometric ID card, like the kind under consideration here, is a national system for identifying individuals that is used to determine if they are eligible for rights and benefits – a classic national ID. In order to create a biometric ID, every worker in America would have to present a birth certificate and other identification documents, then have his or her biometric, like a fingerprint, captured.

In its letter, the coalition stated, “A National ID would not only violate privacy by helping to consolidate data and facilitate tracking of individuals, it would bring government into the very center of our lives by serving as a government permission slip needed by everyone in order to work.”

Below is the full text of the letter and a full list of signatories:

Re:         Oppose Schumer/Graham Biometric National ID Proposal within Comprehensive Immigration Reform

We write today to express our opposition to a proposal by Senators Charles Schumer (D – NY) and Lindsey Graham (R – SC) to create a biometric Social Security card – one that relies on personal characteristics like fingerprints to identify individuals.  No one disputes that our broken immigration system harms both immigrants and non-immigrants, but a full scale National ID system is not the solution.

Both Republicans and Democrats have opposed a National ID system.  President Reagan likened a 1981 proposal to the biblical “mark of the beast,” and President Clinton dismissed a similar plan because it smacked of Big Brother.  A National ID would not only violate privacy by helping to consolidate data and facilitate tracking of individuals, it would bring government into the very center of our lives by serving as a government permission slip needed by everyone in order to work.  As happened with Social Security cards decades ago, use of such ID cards would quickly spread and be used for other purposes – from travel to voting to gun ownership.

Contrary to the contentions of Senators Schumer and Graham, it would be impossible to create such a system without establishing a national database – a central electronic repository – of Americans’ personal information.  Every government identification system currently in existence requires a database.  Databases are necessary in order to reissue lost or stolen cards and as a check on fraud and abuse.  Without record keeping, the same Social Security number and birth certificate could be used again and again to issue new cards to different people – defeating the entire purpose of the system.  Such a central repository will be irresistible to identity thieves, hackers and those who want to misuse personal information for crimes like stalking.

The cost of this system will be extraordinary, running to hundreds of billions of dollars and dwarfing the expense associated with other parts of immigration reform.  As one example, the federal government recently began to issue a limited number of biometric ID cards, called Transportation Worker Identification Credentials.  It is estimated that the Department of Homeland Security will spend approximately $1.9 billion to issue cards to approximately 1 million workers.  Expanded to the entire US workforce of 150 million people, that would translate to a proportionately greater cost of $285 billion.  A biometric system would likely have to be fee based – requiring not just government permission, but also a government fee to work.

Adding insult to injury, this unaffordable scheme will probably never work.  Even ignoring the enormous difficulties of creating a system to fingerprint everyone and distributing readers to employers across the country, the truth is that some employers prefer the ambiguity of the current process.  Unless significantly greater resources are dedicated to enforcing the law, employers will continue to have a strong incentive to circumvent a broken system.  Such enforcement could be accomplished just as easily without a National ID.

A biometric ID system would be controversial and unpopular with constituencies across the ideological spectrum.  It would require the fingerprinting of every American worker – not just immigrants.  It would also require the creation of a bureaucracy that combines the worst elements of the Transportation Security Administration and state Motor Vehicle Departments.

For all of these reasons we believe that a National ID system should play no part in the otherwise needed reform of our immigration system.

Sincerely

American Civil Liberties Union

American Library Association

American Policy Center

Americans for Tax Reform

Bill of Rights Defense Committee

Calegislation

Campaign for Liberty

Center for Digital Democracy

Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights

Citizen Outreach

Citizens Against Government Waste

Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms

Competitive Enterprise Institute

Consumer Action

Consumer Federation of America

Consumer Watchdog

Cyber Privacy Project

Defending Dissent Foundation

DownsizeDC.org, Inc.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Electronic Privacy Information Center

Equal Justice Alliance

Former Congressman Bob Barr

Hispanic Leadership Fund

Home School Legal Defense Association

Indian American Republican Council

Liberty Coalition

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Lawyer’s Guild–National Office

National Whistleblower Center

Patient Privacy Rights

Privacy Activism

Privacy International

Privacy Journal

Privacy Lives

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

Privacy Times

PrivacyRightsNow Coalition

Rutherford Institute

The 5-11 Campaign

The Identity Project

The Multiracial Activist

U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation

World Privacy Forum

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