An immigration bill under review by the Senate Judiciary Committee would mandate a federal photo database of U.S. adults, sparking concerns that the plan constitutes a national ID system.
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, S.744, instructs the Department of Homeland Security to develop a “photo tool,” a national database of headshots that would be used to ensure that only authorized citizens and residents can gain employment in the United States. The existence of the provision in the 800 page bill was first reported by Wired magazine.
The DHS database would record each person's name, age, and social security number, in addition to their photograph.
Critics are concerned that the database could be used for far more than just confirming immigration status and employment eligibility. The Wired report noted that the social security number system was originally designed for, and legally is still only authorized for use concerning, federal retirement benefits – yet today the number is used for identification in a wide variety of circumstances, including verifying citizenship and employment status.
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The Wired account expressed concern that use of the “photo tool” could expand, with authorization through the database required to open bank account, purchase a car, or board a plane. Author David Kravetz compared the program to the Foursquare application, through which smartphone users voluntarily report their location throughout the day.
The existence of a federal facial database also raises concerns that additional biometric data, including fingerprints, and retinal & genetic information, could be added.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, a panel of 10 Democrats and eight Republicans, will consider over 300 proposed changes to the bill in the coming weeks. It is unclear if the committee will be discussing the “photo tool” provision. The senators include Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), John McCain (R-Arizona), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), and Chuck Schumer (D-New York).