The Texas Fusion Center is one facet of an ambitious new homeland security strategy to be unveiled by Gov. Rick Perry's office today.So Texas has not only removed restrictions on police using drivers' fingerprints, now the state will routinely vet them through federal databases nobody ever mentioned before. That's almost the definition of a slippery slope. (Before HB 2337 passed, drivers' fingerprints in Texas were considered private, personal data only accessible with a court order.)
The five-year plan, described as a "high-level road map for our homeland security efforts," is designed to bring together 34 state agencies and 24 regional councils to focus on preventing terrorism, protecting critical infrastructure and recovering from man-made and natural disasters.
Among the plan's elements:
•The use of driver's licenses and identification cards with biometric identifiers, in this case an embedded fingerprint. Applicants will also have their fingerprints checked against federal criminal and terrorism lists. The Texas standard goes beyond what Congress required for enhancing driver's license security in the controversial REAL ID Act this year.
The Houston Chronicle's Polly Hughes followed up today ("Worries mount about system to ID drivers," Nov. 3) with more on the risks of Texas' new biometrics database, many of which will be familiar to Grits readers. For starters (as I warned before the bill passed), "A company the state hired to gather computerized facial imaging and thumbprints on all Texas driver's licenses failed to protect the identities of 7,500 Nevada drivers last spring," Hughes reported.
"Yes, indeedy. They stole everything you needed to make digitized driver's licenses," [a Nevada official] said. He added that the heist netted Social Security numbers, names, ages, dates of birth and photographs of drivers.Ironically, a system touted as a tool to catch people with fake IDs could have the opposite effect if personal information of drivers gets out. "This new system is an identity thief's dream come true," said Ann del Llano of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. "Now any good identity thief in the world has a new database that's going to be one of the largest databases that exists."
That's exactly right, as Grits argued here and here during the 79th Legislature. What's more, reported Hughes, Rep. Frank "Corte's House Bill 2337 not only authorizes the new method for recognizing thumb and facial images, it also gives law enforcement agencies the power to access the high-tech images without first obtaining a search warrant as required in the past." (Don't forget, you heard it here first!)
Rep. Corte summed up the matter with his closing comments in Hughes' article: "Really, I guess it depends on, who are you going to trust? If you don't trust government, you don't trust any of that stuff," he said.
Trust us, we're the government. When did that become the slogan of the Republican Party? What happened to the party of small government, one wonders? Ronald Reagan must be spinning in his grave.
When Texas passed HB 2337 I asked, "Where are the small government conservatives?" I still want to know. For whatever reason, very few of them seem to make it through the GOP primary process into state government. Instead we get Big Brother's handmaidens, like Rick Perry and Frank Corte.