|—||Michael German, senior policy counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union - 2009 Daily Kos|
The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system.
Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation (.pdf) is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.
Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo.
This piece of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is aimed at curbing employment of undocumented immigrants. But privacy advocates fear the inevitable mission creep, ending with the proof of self being required at polling places, to rent a house, buy a gun, open a bank account, acquire credit, board a plane or even attend a sporting event or log on the internet. Think of it as a government version of Foursquare, with Big Brother cataloging every check-in.
“It starts to change the relationship between the citizen and state, you do have to get permission to do things,” said Chris Calabrese, a congressional lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union. “More fundamentally, it could be the start of keeping a record of all things.”
For now, the legislation allows the database to be used solely for employment purposes. But historically such limitations don’t last. The Social Security card, for example, was created to track your government retirement benefits. Now you need it to purchase health insurance.
“The Social Security number itself, it’s pretty ubiquitous in your life,” Calabrese said.
David Bier, an analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, agrees with the ACLU’s fears.
“The most worrying aspect is that this creates a principle of permission basically to do certain activities and it can be used to restrict activities,” he said. “It’s like a national ID system without the card.”
For the moment, the debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee is focused on the parameters of legalization for unauthorized immigrants, a border fence and legal immigration in the future.
The committee is scheduled to resume debate on the package Tuesday.
On Wednesday, a lawsuit was filed against the GRPD by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Miriam Aukerman, an attorney for the ACLU of West Michigan, said more than 800 companies in Grand Rapids have signed what they call “Letters of Intent to Prosecute Trespassers.”
The problem is, according to the ACLU, there is no public record of these letters, so no one knows for sure which companies have agreements with police.
The ACLU says that isn’t the biggest injustice, and Gil Weber said he can speak from experience.
Weber suffers from chronic hip pain, making it difficult to sit for long periods of time without needing to get up and stretch. ”It’s the worst pain in the world,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Because of the pain, Weber said, he needed to stretch when he pulled into the BP gas station at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Franklin Street in June of last year. Within a minute of pulling into the station, he said, he was approached by police.
“(Officers) looked me in the face and said, ‘I am arresting you for trespassing.’ “
For three days Weber sat in jail had to pay $300 to get his car out of impound, only to have the trespassing charges dropped in court.
“He did what many of us would do, just pull into a gas station to check a map, or make a phone call, or to get out and stretch, that is not a crime,” said ACLU lawyer Miriam Aukerman.
A year later, Weber is named as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Grand Rapids Police Department filed in federal court.
The lawsuit claims police solicit businesses to sign a letter of intent to prosecute trespassers. ”The problem is when the police decide who the trespasser is and who isn’t,” said Aukerman. “I think businesses have no idea what’s actually happening here. Businesses don’t want their patrons arrested.”
The ACLU said they’ve uncovered hundreds of businesses with a signed agreement with police. ”These are sort of 815 secret places were your rights can disappear,” said Aukerman.