- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

The Bush administration is establishing a national biometrics identification system to prevent terrorists from gaining legal entry into the country and says international standards should be established.
Biometrics identifies people through their physical characteristics: fingerprints, iris scans, voice signatures or facial scans. It can be used with an identity card or the information can be stored in a database.
Two al Qaeda suspects were recently taken into custody by U.S. immigration authorities as they tried to enter the United States after their fingerprints were matched with ones lifted by U.S. military officials from documents found in caves in Afghanistan. Photographs could also be fed into the system to identify terrorists by facial scans.
Through the USA Patriot Act, Congress directed the administration to develop an integrated entry and exit data system at the borders with particular focus on the development of biometric technology.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge negotiated a border deal with Canada in December 2001 to increase security with plans to use biometrics in travel documents.
Testifying before his Senate confirmation hearing recently, Mr. Ridge said "ultimately there needs to be an international standard."
"I can envision a day in the not-too-distant future where if we are requiring biometric identification for people to come across our borders, then our friends and allies and others may require the same kinds of information as we visit their countries as well," Mr. Ridge said.
Mr. Ridge could not give a cost estimate to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, but said biometrics will be "a significant part of our entry-exit system."
Bob Barr, a former Georgia congressman now with the American Conservative Union, says he is "leery" that international guidelines could lower privacy standards.
"The problem is, we are on such a different plane than other countries in terms of privacy. Should we develop standards that meet our constitutional concerns, and then if other countries want to do that, that's fine. Let's encourage them to do so," Mr. Barr said.
Privacy and civil-liberty groups question whether the technology will prevent terrorists from entering the country, and some say it is a back-door effort to create broad-based and intrusive identification cards.
Barry Steinhardt, director of technology and liberty for the American Civil Liberties Union, said biometrics will become a "de facto national identification system."
"There is a real danger we will slip towards a national identification card, but we will never call it that. We will just slip-slide into the notion that we will have one uniform system, and biometric identification is the way that will happen," Mr. Steinhardt said.
"If we agree on a single biometric identifier, it will appear on every piece of paper in our lives and it will become the way we are tracked. We will have a surveillance society, and that, of course, is the goal of some, particularly the government," Mr. Steinhardt said.
Other privacy advocates say they are not opposed to new technology so long as it is reliable.
"It is legitimate to explore this technology, but privacy concerns are very significant, nonetheless," Mr. Barr said.
David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said privacy protections should proceed at the same pace as technology development.
"Often the problem is that invasive surveillance technologies are rolled out before the policy debate concerning the guidelines for the use of these systems," Mr. Sobel said.
Richard Norton, executive director of the International Biometric Industry Association, says the technology would instead help protect privacy.
The information would be contained in a highly encrypted code "protected from virtually any abuse," Mr. Norton said.
"To our knowledge, no one has broken the code or used it to pose as someone else. It's designed to be virtually impossible for that," Mr. Norton said.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat and ranking member on the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, said yesterday he is drafting legislation that would require government agencies to issue privacy impact statements.
Mr. Nadler originally introduced the bill in the last session with Mr. Barr. Mr. Nadler said the legislation is "needed now more than ever" so that Congress will "know how the government might intentionally or unintentionally be intruding on our Fourth Amendment privacy rights."

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