Risks to privacy and security rise every year. The advance of globalization and the growth of information technology across most sectors of the economy, including health care, have exposed individuals, governments and corporations to hacking, ransomware, data-mining, data breaches and more.
Serious questions emerge in this era of rapid technological advancement. Can government infringe on personal privacy rights by claiming safety and security purposes? Can government claim ‘the common good’ outweighs the individual’s constitutional guarantee of freedom?
With these questions in mind, how should Americans respond to the growth of biometric identification mandates such as the facial-scan biometric requirement in REAL ID, the nation’s new ‘de facto’ national identification system?
Benjamin Franklin, understanding this tension, prioritized freedom: Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
Although Mr. Franklin could not have foreseen our technological world, including computers, the Internet, smartphones, and electronic health records, his sentiment still rings true. Safety and security must be viewed through the American lens of individual freedom, including privacy rights. Unlike other countries that have imposed national ID systems, Congress and the federal government are limited by protective provisions in the Constitution of the United States. The danger of biometric identification schemes is summarized concisely in an Electronic Frontier Foundation publication called “Mandatory National IDs and Biometric Databases:”
National ID cards and the databases behind them comprise the cornerstone of government surveillance systems that creates risks to privacy and anonymity. The requirement to produce identity cards on demand habituates citizens into participating in their own surveillance and social control.
Freedom lost is not easily regained. The authors of the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights understood the importance of privacy to freedom and security. The Fourth Amendment enshrines personal security by protecting privacy: “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” The loss of the individual right to be free would be the greatest insecurity of all.
Idemia, the focus of this report, is not a household name, despite its reach into the private and commercial affairs of most Americans. The company’s advance of biometric data strategies, databases and scanning devices for access and entry control—“augmented identification”—are also likely unknown. However, this global company is acquainted with most American citizens, whose private information flows through its equipment, databases, and software products. That said, it is unclear whether Idemia actually stores this data long-term. One news article on TSA PreCheck, the program that speeds clearance at airport security, says the data and fingerprints of program applicants are not stored by Idemia. The company simply collects them for the program and sends them to the FBI, which destroys them or sends them back.
This report seeks to acquaint Americans and their elected representatives with Idemia and biometric ID cards—and draw attention to our organization’s concern that current or future augmented identification requirements could negatively impact individual freedom and patient access to medical services.
In addition, as we often say, “He who holds the data makes the rules.” Third parties that collect, store or have the power to access personal data on Americans without their consent also have the power to use that data to interfere in the personal lives and private choices of individuals. This report will add weight to that reality
INTRODUCING IDEMIA & BIOMETRICS
Imagine sitting at a bank applying for a credit card and waving your hand through a scanner, allowing the bank to capture a biometric scan. Or imagine being required to scan your fingerprint to use that card for payment. Picture your identification documents being stored on your mobile or digital devices and being unlocked with a biometric face scan, similar to how Face ID,
Apple’s new technology, unlocks iPhones.4 Visualize walking through an airport and having scanners capture your facial, iris, and fingerprint biometrics as you go through each phase of security or reach your gate. Pick out a rental car online and imagine using your biometric ID to unlock and operate the car instead of a key.
Idemia, which calls itself “the global leader in trusted identities,” has imagined it already. These augmented identification systems using individual biometrics for entry, access and commercial transactions are portrayed in a video found on Idemia’s website, and available on YouTube.5 The company considers itself “the world number one” in the biometric algorithm and sensor technology market.