Congress Poised To Mandate Government Registration and Tracking of All Americans

Author: National Center for Home Education

February 1996

Congress Poised To Mandate Government Registration and Tracking of All Americans

Imagine an America in which every citizen is required to carry a biometrically-encoded identification card as a precondition for conducting business. Imagine having your retina scanned every time you need to prove your identification. Imagine carrying a card containing your entire medical, academic, social, and financial history. Now, imagine that bureaucrats, police officers, and social workers have access under certain circumstances to the information on your card. Finally, imagine an America in which it is illegal to seek any employment without approval from the United States government.

This future may be more real than many Americans would like to think if Congressional lawmakers are allowed to proceed with their most recent attempt at monitoring the private lives of American citizens.

Enter S. 269, the latest attempt by Congress to mandate a computer-driven, biometrically-verifiable national identification system. If enacted into law, S. 269 would require the most comprehensive registration and tracking of American citizens by the federal government in history. Some experts have speculated that once the system envisioned by S. 269 is in place, the scope of the identity card could be expanded to include information of a highly personal nature, such as credit and spending history and medical, educational, and social records.

On February 29, 1996, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin deliberation on S. 269, The Immigration Reform Act of 1996. The bill has already passed the Immigration Subcommittee and is being promoted by Senator Alan Simpson (R- WY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). In the House, Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas is the key sponsor of a similar bill, H.R.2202, The Immigration in the National Interest Act. Although the House bill is not as extreme in its proposals as the Senate version, it still contains provisions which should be viewed as objectionable by family privacy advocates. H.R. 2202 is scheduled for a final floor vote on March 18. The Clinton Administration is a strong proponent of both bills.

Why would Congress and the Clinton Administration consider such a plan?

Some Americans believe that America is in the midst of an illegal immigration crisis. Politicians want to show their constituents that they are taking strong action against illegal immigration. These politicians argue that the best way to control illegal immigration is to give the government the right to approve all employee hiring in America. By using advanced technology to register, track and store information on every citizen, they argue, it will be easy to spot illegal immigrants.

If At First You Don't Succeed . . .

Similar (but unsuccessful) proposals to create a national registry and tracking system were advanced in the early 1980's by a powerful array of government agencies who brushed aside any concerns about personal privacy. Agencies like the Internal Revenue Service, the State Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency, each for their own unique reasons, craved a law which would require every American to carry a national identity card. One attempt to register and track Americans came close to being endorsed by the Reagan cabinet in July 1981, but it was stopped when President Reagan personally vetoed the idea on the grounds that it was a massive invasion of privacy.

In 1993, under the guise of an immunization bill, Congress attempted to register and track every American from birth, but the measure was defanged of its dangerous provisions after tens of thousands of calls and letters poured into Washington D.C. from parents around the country asking Congress to respect their family privacy and individual liberties. Perhaps the most famous attempt to create a national registry came in 1994 as part of the Clinton Administration's ill-fated Health Security Act.

Each time these proposals have been mounted, pro-family forces have rallied to defeat them.

Smart Cards, Retina Scans, Voice Patterns and the Coming Biometric Privacy Invasion

Biometrics is the science of measuring unique physiological or behavioral characteristics. In recent years, the technology which drives this science has evolved well beyond fingerprinting and dental records. In fact, the technology is available to identify people by the length of their fingers, the pattern of their retinas, the sound of their voices, and the smell of their skin. Senate lawmakers intend to incorporate advanced forms of this technology as part of the most comprehensive identification and information gathering program in history.

On May 10, 1995, the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration met for a hearing entitled, "Verification of Applicant Identity for the Purposes of Employment and Public Assistance." The hearing was chaired by Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) and was attended by Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Jon Kyl (R- AZ). Robert Rasor, from the Financial Crimes Division of the Secret Service, provided an explanation to the Subcommittee of the emerging "biometric" technologies' role in personal identification: "The use of biometrics is the means by which an individual may be conclusively identified There are two types of biometric identifiers: physical and behavioral characteristics. Physiological biometrics include facial features, hand geometry, retinal and iris patterns, DNA, and fingerprints. Behavioral characteristics include voice characteristics and signature analysis."

Although the language of S. 269 does not mandate which specific biometric technique will be used to register, track and identify every American, it clearly calls for the use of biometrics (Section 115(7)). Senator Dianne Feinstein, an original drafter of the proposal, recently explained in a Capitol Hill magazine that it is her intention to see Congress immediately implement a national identity system where every American is required to carry a card with a "magnetic strip on which the bearer's unique voice, retina pattern, or fingerprint is digitally encoded."

"Fifteen years ago, they would have torn the building down."

Despite the fact that this bill could dramatically increase the role of the federal government in the private lives of Americans, the proposal has received relatively little media attention. Senate sponsors seem to be pleased by the opportunity to act covertly. During his closing remarks following the last panel of the May 10 subcommittee meeting, Senator Simpson mused on the relative lack of media attention given the hearings and the overlap between a national ID card and President Clinton's proposal for a "Health Security Card" two years ago: "There is much to do here, but I was just saying to Ted [Kennedy] before he left, a hearing like this fifteen years ago, they would have torn the building down. And here we are today just a bunch of us, kind of sitting around and no media, no nothing. This is fine with me. I get tired of them on this issue."

Key Problems With The Bill

Congressional attempts to include privacy safeguards in the language offer little hope or consolation. Agencies like the IRS and the Social Security Administration (SSA) have recently been subject to criticism for their lack of control over employees who, in violation of the privacy safeguards, were opening confidential files and making the information available to outsiders. Among other things, the bill establishes:

* That the federal government create a national database containing information on all Americans and immigrants eligible to work in this country (S. 269, Sec. 111).

* That all Americans may be required to obtain a national identification device, like an ID card (S. 269, Sec. 111(b)).

* Beginning in 1999, all employers must receive authorization from the national computer database before hiring any new employee this does not just apply to immigrants. For each new employee, the company would be required to transmit his name and identification number via modem and then wait for the national database to respond with an authorization code. If the person's name is not in the database, he can not work (S. 269, Sec. 111).

* All American children must register with the SSA by age sixteen. When they register, they must provide the agency with a "fingerprint or other biometric data." The agency would place the fingerprint "or other biometric data" on the child's birth certificate, hoping to make the birth certificate more fraud-resistant (S. 269, Sec. 116(7)).

* In violation of the Tenth Amendment, the Senate bill would create federalize rules pertaining to the creation of driver's licenses, and would unconstitutionally mandate that 1) social security numbers be attached to the license; and that 2) all drivers licenses "shall contain a fingerprint or other biometric data." (S. 269, Sec. 116(b)).

A National Database Would Be a Nightmare!

Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) called the national computer registry and move toward a national identity card, "an abomination and wholly at odds with the American tradition of individual freedom." Senator Spencer Abraham (R-MI) recently joined Armey in signing a letter denouncing the tracking system. Jack Kemp wrote in the New York Times, "An anti-privacy, anti-business and anti-American approach is no way to run immigration policy."

These bills would create an unprecedented increase in the government's ability to collect information. For the first time:

* The government would have a comprehensive registry of every American name, date of birth, place of birth, mother's maiden name, Social Security number, gender, race, and other information. Personal information that is now scattered in many different places would be consolidated in one database, controlled by a single federal agency.

* Personal information would be accessible to local agencies and anyone who claims to be an employer.

* The government would have to grant approval before a company enters into private employment contract with a private citizen.

The Legislation Is Likely To Pass Unless Significant Opposition Develops Soon

Under the current political climate, the bill is likely to be enacted into law. Most Senators do not even realize that the bill would create a national, computer-linked registry and tracking system driven by biometric technology. Those who do understand have not properly evaluated the tremendous threat to individual liberties and family privacy posed by the measure.

The House Version

In its current form, H.R. 2202 calls for pilot programs to test the idea of an computer- linked verification system. It calls for new and unprecedented databases and data sharing and computer link-ups between state and federal agencies, thus expanding the government's ability to monitor private citizens. Like S. 269, it would, for the first time, require private employers to receive approval from a federal computer database before entering into private employment contracts with individuals.

Opposition To The Bills

More than fifty influential organizations representing groups on both the right and left of the political spectrum have joined together in an effort to defeat these bills. A number of Representatives and Senators have responded favorably to their concerns. Two of them, Senators Spence Abraham (R-MI) and Rus Feingold (D-WI) have joined together to offer amendments to delete all references to registries, ID cards, or employment verification programs from the Senate bill.

Action Is Urgently Needed

The registry and tracking system currently before Congress must be defeated. Now is the time to write and call urging your lawmakers on Capitol Hill to oppose any national registry, tracking and identification system. Tell them that the threat to individual liberty and family privacy far outweigh any potential benefits that such a system might provide in curbing illegal immigration. If your senator is a member of the Judiciary Committee urge him to support the Abraham/Feingold Amendment. Tell them that there are acceptable solutions to America's illegal immigration problem but giving the government the power to register and track its citizens is not one of them. [Note: S. 269 may be officially redubbed S.1394.]

Call your Senator at (202) 225-3121 and your Representative at (202) 224-3121.

This special report was prepared by the legal staff of the National Center for Home Education, P.O. Box 125, Paeonian Springs, VA 22129. Permission is granted to reprint this report in its entirety.