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
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
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
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
* 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
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.