Thursday, May 05, 2005

Texas risks identity theft with Big Brother biometrics database

The Texas House today chose to risk identity theft of Texans' personal data on a scale that, in just a few years, could make the release of Choicepoint's information seem small time.

The House passed on second reading today HB 2337 by Corte which allows the Texas Department of Public Safety to create a statewide biometric facial recogntion database of all drivers license and ID card holders. The bill is very similar to one voted down on a 111-26 vote in 2003. DPS ignored that vote, though, and
included the technology in their request for proposals, anyway. Now they've come back to the Lege looking for another bite at the apple.

The stakes if Texas makes an error are potentially enormous. Bill Gates has predicted that in just a few years, biometrics - presently facial recognition and fingerprint data are the main types used - will
replace computer passwords for homes and businesses. Those are exactly the two biometrics DPS will now collect: thumbprints and facial recognition scans. The thumbprints have never worked well, which is why they want the facial recognition data.

So if DPS' data is stolen in a couple of years, then, the thieves will potentially have stolen millions of Texans' computer passwords. Ooops. What then? Legislators will find their political opponents blaming them for it in their direct mail, that's what.

The theft scenario isn't too far-fetched. One of the two firms bidding on DPS' drivers license re-engineering project was responsible this spring for personal data about thousands of people
stolen from the Nevada DMV.

Nearly equally disturbing, the bill removes all restrictions on using Texas drivers and ID card holders' personal data for criminal investigations -- right now the information can only be used for a narrow list of purposes including verifying identity when renewing a license and draft registration. HB 2337 allows the data to be used for criminal investigations without a judge's oversight -- presently, law enforcement can use the data whenever they need to, but must obtain a court order.

Terrible bill; assuming no dramatic turnaround tomorrow, it's sad to say the Texas Senate may be our best hope for avoiding another new Big Brother database of Texans' personal information.

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