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Proposed National Database Sparks Privacy Controversy

An immigration bill proposed by the U.S. Senate -- being called one of the biggest overhauls to immigration policy in generations -- is making waves among privacy advocates in the United States.

immigration bill

The proposed immigration bill would provide a route for illegal aliens to become U.S. citizens, while requiring all Americans (citizens and non-citizens) to be verified by the Department of Homeland Security before being eligible to work (or keep a job you have currently).

The bill, the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007, would provide amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, giving them a chance to become American citizens, increase border security and monitoring of immigrants and allow more guest workers into the country, for starters.

However, a little talked about part of the bill involves the Employment Eligibility Verification System (EEVS). The new bill calls for a major expansion of EEVS -- so that everyone, U.S. citizen or not, would have to be checked out by the system prior to getting a job (and every time you switched jobs).

Within 18 months of the bill being passed, the 7.5 million U.S. businesses would be required to start using the screening system, which is run by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Businesses would be required to verify every worker -- which amounts to about 150 million people -- within three years or face steep fines.

Currently, EEVS (formerly known as the Basic Pilot Program) is used by only a fraction of employers on a voluntary basis, and is reportedly plagued with errors and technological glitches -- similar to issues that have occurred with the federal "no-fly list."

"The Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General recently estimated that the SSA's 'Numident' file -- the data against which Basic Pilot checks worker information -- has an error rate of 4.1 percent," said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington.

"At this rate, one in every 25 new hires would receive a 'tentative non-confirmation' and have to engage with an intransigent federal bureaucracy to seek permission to work," he says.

Social Security Numbers, Tax Information and REAL IDs

Among the documents that every U.S. employer would be required to verify and provide to the Department of Homeland Security are social security numbers and REAL IDs.

Real IDs are a type of driver's license that can be scanned. Under another of the bill's provisions, every American would be required to have a Real ID, and they would be necessary to board an airplane or enter a federal building, and would link to your state's Department of Motor Vehicle.

This means that all of the information stored by your DMV -- copies of birth certificates, bank statements, social security numbers and more -- would be accessible to DMV employees and, potentially, to criminals.

Tax information on everyone who has filed a tax return after 2005, via databases maintained by the Internal Revenue Service, would also be made available to the Department of Homeland Security and its contractors.

Further, another amendment that's a pending part of the immigration bill is a "hardened" social security card. If passed, the amendment would require that Americans carry a hardened social security card that would potentially contain "biometric" information such as fingerprints or DNA.

immigration bill

The bill denies essential due process, seeks to overturn Supreme Court limits on detention and fails to guarantee meaningful judicial review," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office. "Substantial changes must be made to ensure that the legislation adheres to the values of our country and our Constitution. Without effective judicial oversight, any new program enacted by Congress can be gutted by an overburdened, incompetent or hostile bureaucracy.

Major Opposition Arises

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are adamantly opposed to the proposed immigration bill, citing concerns that it would harm privacy and due process.

In short, in order to gain employment, or keep a current job, everyone in the United States would be required to carry a hardened social security and present a Real ID-compliant driver's license. They would then need to be approved by DHS' EEVS.

If the EEVS makes a mistake in your work eligibility, there would be virtually no way to challenge the error or recover lost wages, according to ACLU, because of the bill's prohibitions on judicial review.

"EEVS would be a financial and bureaucratic nightmare for both businesses and workers," said Timothy Sparapani, ACLU Legislative Counsel. "Under this already flawed program no one would be able to work in the U.S. without DHS approval -- creating a 'No Work List' similar to the government's 'No Fly List.' We need immigration reform, but not at this cost."

Meanwhile, six state legislatures, including Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Washington, have already passed laws against the requirement of new Real ID driver's licenses, stating that the "national ID cards" would be expensive to implement and compromise privacy.

As said by Neal Kurk, a Republican state representative from New Hampshire, "The people of New Hampshire are adamantly opposed to any kind of 'papers-please' society reminiscent of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. This is another effort of the federal government to keep track of all its citizens."

Recommended Reading

RFIDs: The Pros and Cons Every Consumer Needs to Know About Radio Frequency Identification Tags

Did You Know that Anyone Can Easily Access Your Cell Phone Records?

American Civil Liberties Union June 18, 2007 May 22, 2007

American Chronicle May 29, 2007

The Huffington Post June 19, 2007

Washington Post June 3, 2007

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