Thursday, November 03, 2005

Biometrics slope got slippery awfully quick ...

Just two months after HB 2337 took effect allowing the Texas Department of Public Safety to gather drivers' biometric information and removing judicial oversight of its use, Governor Perry let the other shoe drop. The Dallas News reported yesterday (Exclusive: State homeland plan links data," Nov. 2):
The Texas Fusion Center is one facet of an ambitious new homeland security strategy to be unveiled by Gov. Rick Perry's office today.

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.

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 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.


Anonymous said...

Maybe someone can help me remember something, what branch of the government does the Department of Public Safety fall under? I'm pretty sure they don't fall under the legislator branch.
Who watches and is responsible for these thugs in uniform?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

They're part of the executive branch, formally under Gov. Perry, but the current director predates the Governor. The Legislature also plays a role, setting their budget and passing laws that directly affect them. DPS is definitely its own enormous bureaucratic fiefdom, though.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps they will soon be requiring a list of Jews who attend all of the Synagogues.Ditto Christians and their churches. This info can be added to the driver's license too.
Shades of the Third Reich. Is there nobody out there fighting this? Texas will soon become a fully totalitarian state.

Anonymous said...

Biometrics now a days with hi tech research and up gradation, is providing new sensors and scanners with higher reliability. Biometrics in Government operations, immigrations and public safety sector is definitely a higher technological step forward. I am a representative of an established research based biometric firm named M2SYS Technology
based in Atlanta Georgia. We have provided our fingerprint scanners to numerous organizations like Healthcare, public safety, Jails, government institutions etc., across various countries, which are now making a very fast and reliable client, passenger,citizens or criminal record service through integrating our secured fingerprint identification system in their software. Our’s is a patent-pending fingerprint software solution that can be instantly integrated with a host application, avoiding development burdens associated with a fingerprint SDK. We also offer several off-the-shelf fingerprints software products that are distributed to the end user market through our expanding list of channel partners. I believe to keep up with speed of service and tracking passengers and citizens in an efficient way, finger print scanners are one of the best solutions.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Except what happens when that biometric is stolen, and a rubber film can emulate it? I think that's a terrible, easily defeated security solution - what Bruce Schneier calls "security theater." For show, mostly, not really because it solves a particular problem.

Anonymous said...

We are fighting this in Texas. We are a non-partisan group called the 5-11 campaign. We need members to come to our meetings and help us approach our representatives and get the word out to the public.

Our next meeting is on Sunday June 1 at 3:00 at Brave New Books in Austin