Author: Margaret Hu


Immigration Reform: Biometric Cybersurveillance Quid Pro Quo?

Surveillance Man 02From a privacy perspective, it’s good news that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) just put the ice on the House Republican leadership’s immigration reform efforts this week.  Since 9/11, proposals for comprehensive immigration reform = proposals for comprehensive biometric cybersurveillance (e.g., tracking and identity screening through digital photos, digitalized fingerprints, iris scans, DNA and other bodily characteristics).  In recent years, cybersurveillance programs have been introduced as a bargaining chip for the creation of a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.  Sexual harassment quid pro quo in the employment discrimination context: sleep with me or you’re fired. Cybersurveillance quid pro quo in the immigration reform context: implement biometric-based “identity management” programs (e.g., biometric-based “E-Verify” Internet-based identity screening) and other cybersurveillance systems or we’re never legalizing undocumented immigrants.

What this might mean is that, eventually, in the name of advancing immigration reform and border security, everyone could be lining up to give up their fingerprints, iris scans, DNA samples, etc., to the government for the privilege of entering the U.S. border, the workforce, airplanes and other transportation carriers, etc.  Sounds hyperbolic?  One member of Congress has suggested that Americans should give up their DNA for a DNA-based Social Security Card  in the name of immigration reform. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Attorney Jennifer Lynch describes how DHS is now collecting the DNA of refugees in her report, From Fingerprints to DNA: Biometric Data Collection in U.S. Immigrant Communities and Beyond (May 2012).  DHS is researching  portable and instant DNA screening technology. Presumedly, this will allow for the collection of DNA at the border for identity screening purposes in the similar manner that DHS is collecting and planning to collect other biometric data of U.S. visitors, such as digital photos and fingerprints, and iris scans. Read More