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Fact Sheet: Mandatory Biometric Worker Identification Cards: A Briefer (2010)


Also available in Spanish New York Senator Charles E. Schumer has proposed the creation of a mandatory national biometric worker identification card for all workers in the United States as part of his plan for comprehensive immigration reform. How would the system work? Under Schumer’s plan, every person who seeks a job in the U.S.—citizens and non-citizens—would be required to present a biometric ID card to potential employers verifying one’s eligibility to work. Employers would match an individual’s fingerprint to a fingerprint scan on the ID card. This system would provide the backbone for America’s first ever national identity card system—something all Americans and immigrants should oppose. What would be the process for verifying eligibility for employment? Step 1: An individual seeking work in the United States would visit a government office and submit personal documents like a birth certificate and Social Security card, pose for digital photographs and have their fingerprints scanned. Step 2: The government would digitally embed personal information and the fingerprint data onto an identity card and issue it to the individual. The fingerprint would be deleted, but most of the individual’s personal information would be kept in the government’s computer system. Step 3: After being hired, an individual would submit the identity card to an employer, who would swipe the card in an electronic reader. The individual would also submit to a fingerprint scan at work. If the fingerprint data on the scan matches the fingerprint data on the card, the individual would be eligible to work. The technology in the proposed system raises important concerns:

  • The technology necessary to establish the biometric system is unproven and has never been used on such a large scale. The record demonstrates errors are likely—significant hurdles exist in making the system fraud-proof and affordable.
  • Forcing workers to submit fingerprint data to get a job treats them like criminals—such data will become more valuable and more sensitive in the future.
  • The government will be able to add unlimited amounts of information to the database and identity cards in the future. Past national identity card proposals have included information such as citizenship status, national origin, ethnicity and religion. This could trigger racial and ethnic profiling, and civil rights violations.
  • The cards may also include radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology—similar to the E-Z Pass—that would enable remote collection of information, raising serious privacy and civil rights concerns.

Senator Schumer’s plan is bad for workers and bad for Americans’ rights. It’s time to convince Senator Schumer his plan has no place in comprehensive immigration reform.

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