Daily Beast blogger Justin Green, who blogs on columnist David Frum’s Daily Beast blog, has responded to Wired’s recent article “Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform.” Green thinks that there is no reason for concern, writing that “fortunately, Wired’s assertion is false.” Unfortunately, he has been misled.
First, Green claims that biometric information is being collected, but “those affected are unauthorized aliens, not American citizens.” But this is incorrect. The E-Verify database will affect every single U.S. citizen who is a potential worker. Given the fact that the database will include photographs, it is biometric. Green responds by quoting an anonymous Senate aide telling him that photos aren’t “biometric” by any “reasonable definition.” This might just be semantics, but as identification expert Jim Harper notes in his book Identity Crisis:
Biometrics measures the distinct traits that people have on their bodies. Examples of physiological biometrics are all the things we think of most commonly as physical identifiers–hair color, eye color, sex, skin color, height, weight, and so on.
In other words, a picture contains a host of biometric information about you, not just one piece of biometric information. Is this an uncommon or “unreasonable” definition? Well, I think the standard for reasonable or common usage would be Wikipedia, which defines biometrics as “identifiers are the distinctive, measurable characteristics used to label and describe individuals.” Under this definition, photographs would also apply, and in an age of facial recognition software, it would certainly not be difficult to take a picture of an individual and use it to find them in such a database.
Never mind how experts or the general public use the word, the phrase biometric identification has a specific legal definition. Under 46 USC 70123, “the term “biometric identification” means use of fingerprint and digital photography images and facial and iris scan technology and any other technology considered applicable by the Department of Homeland Security.” In other words, the government itself defines photographs as biometric identification.