Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Biometrics of Face Veils?

Here's an issue the Texas House Defense Affairs Committee didn't address in their recommendation (pdf) that the state gather biometric facial recognition data on applicants for drivers licenses and ID cards: How will the machines work on veiled women or others wearing religious headgear?

The DPS Department of Motor Vehicles in 2003 recognized religious headgear as normal attire for drivers license photos in a policy memo, according to a
study (pdf) by the Council of American-Islamic Relations on "Religious Accomodation in Drivers License Photographs," via the Niqabi Paralegal, which has been covering the issue a lot. Texas law is silent, says the study, on the question of whether face veils may be worn in drivers license photos. (Three states, all states with large Amish and/or Mennonite populations, allow issuance of licenses without photos.)

So, in order for the biometrics to work on everyone, the Texas Legislature would have to revise the state's previously tolerant policies regarding religious headgear, possibly banning license photos of veiled women. Do that, though, and very quickly the biometrics proposal will come to look like it's targeting Muslims. That perception makes the issue politically sticky, since Texas Muslims have historically constituted a mostly Republican constituency, so the party in power may not want to take such a radical approach aimed at their own voters.

See recent Grits coverage on this issue: "Biometrics Blues," Stanzas One, Two and Three, What Do Fallujah and Texas Have in Common?, Whither Texas on Biometrics After Intelligence Bill?, and No Smiling.

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