Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Whither Texas on Biometrics After Intelligence Bill?

As legislators in Austin push to start gathering biometric data on Texas drivers and ID card applicants, Congress last week approved language in the so-called "intelligence reform" bill that would allow the Bush Administration to require gathering biometric data on all drivers nationally through an administrative decision within the next 18 months. It passed with little opposition, though as usual, Texas Rep. Ron Paul played Don Quixote to Tom DeLay's Friston, unsuccessfully opposing the provision.

The bill mandates the federal Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security to create a de facto national ID card, complete with swipable stripe for easy access to your data. With a hat tip to Scott at Freedom is Slavery for the specifics, here's relevant the language from the bill:

(2) MINIMUM STANDARDS.—Not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall by regulation, establish minimum standards for driver’s licenses or personal identification cards issued by a State for use by Federal agencies for identification purposes that shall include—

(A) standards for documentation required as proof of identity of an applicant for a driver’s license or personal identification card;
(B) standards for the verifiability of documents used to obtain a driver’s license or personal identification card;
(C) standards for the processing of applications for driver’s licenses and personal identification cards to prevent fraud;
(D) standards for information to be included on each driver’s license or personal identification card, including—
(i) the person’s full legal name;
(ii) the person’s date of birth;
(iii) the person’s gender;
(iv) the person’s driver’s license or personal identification card number;
(v) a digital photograph of the person;
(vi) the person’s address of principal residence; and
(vii) the person’s signature;
(E) standards for common machine-readable identity information to be included on each driver’s license or personal identification card, including defined minimum data elements;
(F) security standards to ensure that driver’s licenses and personal identification cards are—
(i) resistant to tampering, alteration, or counterfeiting; and
(ii) capable of accommodating and ensuring the security of a digital photograph or other unique identifier; and
(G) a requirement that a State confiscate a driver’s license or personal identification card if any component or security feature of the license or identification card is compromised.
The possibility for government collection of biometric data from average citizens stems from the open ended language allowing DHS DoT, if the Secretary desires, to mandate "standards" for verifiability, documentation, and information regarding the license, plus allowing them to collect any "other unique identifier" as part of the minimum requirements for states to ensure security. Though the language is subtle, Dr. James Jay Caranfo told the Washington Post the "provisions in the bill [support] the development of biometric technologies and the integration of biometrics (unique physical and behavioral characteristics like fingerprints and handwriting) into security systems."

So, how does this federal legislation affect plans by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the House Defense Affairs Committee to require biometric facial recognition data on Texas drivers license applications starting next year? It likely means their efforts are premature. If the feds must come out with new national standards for drivers licenses in just 18 months, it would be too early for Texas to make those decision now. It could mean collecting data or designing new computer systems that may not mesh with what the feds ultimately require.

For that reason, the passage of the national intelligence reform bill argues strongly that legislators should delay any consideration of gathering new biometric data from drivers license applicants until the 80th Texas Legislature in 2007.

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

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