The total state needs total information. How else can it track every dollar to snatch, every child to draft, every opinion to slap down? The monitoring of movement will always be done covertly or — if revealed — in the name of safety and fairness.
Obama assumed office with a vow to lead the most transparent White House in American history. Now another Godzilla Act has another massive gotcha that steps closer to the total state. The 800 plus page Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S.744) was introduced in the Senate on April 17 by a powerful group of bipartisan senators known as the “Gang of Eight.” And, as the comedian George Carlin once said of bipartisanship, it “usually means that a larger-than-usual deception is being carried out.”
Section 3101 of S.744, “Unlawful Employment of Unauthorized Aliens,” contains a mandatory “Identity Authentication Mechanism” that mandates a biometric ID database for almost every adult in America. The so-called “Photo Tool” database would be administered jointly by the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It would include not only personal information but also photographs from state-issued ID such as a driver’s license. Every adult who drives or travels, who opens a bank account or intersects with a government agency requires a state-issued photo ID. This means almost every adult in America will be on record with the most powerful domestic surveillance and police force in the world.
The ostensible purpose of the database is to prevent the illegal employment of undocumented immigrants. Employers would be legally obligated to “E-Verify” every person they hired; that is, they would be required to “match the photo on a covered identity document provided to the employer [by the job applicant] to a photo maintained by a US Citizenship and Immigration Services database.”
The American state does not care about the financial cost E-Verify inflicts on business or taxpayers. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) estimates the cost at “about $4.1 billion in initial setup costs and $8.5 billion in ongoing annual costs to government, businesses, and employees.” Additionally, if a specified 5,000 special agents are hired at an annual compensation that starts at “$45,416 per year, the new hires will likely cost taxpayers at least $2.27 billion over the next decade.”
The American state does not care about the penalties E-Verify would inflict on employers or minorities like Hispanics who would become high-risk employees — translation, less employable. After all, the employers would pay huge penalties for employees who bypass or somehow fake verification. David Bier of CEI explained, “The Senate legislation will increase penalties for illegal hiring, paperwork mistakes or technical errors in the process, which further incentivizes discrimination….[Another] reason for avoiding foreign-born or ‘foreign-looking’ individuals is that if unauthorized workers beat E-Verify by assuming others’ identities, employers could lose much of their workforce overnight” if the authorities find out.
The American state does not care about the social control E-Verify inflicts on individuals. The Act has a clear potential if not the likelihood of becoming a civil liberties train wreck. Once the bureaucracy is in place, there is no reason for E-Verify to stop with employment; there are reasons for the state to expand the program’s mission. The DHS could demand the verification of identity and a collection of data every time a person accesses a finance service, buys a home or car, boards a plane or train, applies for a license, seeks health care, casts a vote, requests a government service, or logs into a social network.
Defenders of S.744 reply that the Act allows the database to be used only for the purpose of hiring; the Act expressly forbids the establishment of a national ID database. They should read history. Social Security numbers were introduced in 1935 by Obama’s hero Franklin D. Roosevelt. They were explicitly prohibited from being used for any purpose other than tracking accounts within the Social Security program. People were expressly forbidden to use a Social Security numbers for identification. Cards issued from 1946 to 1972 had the words “for social security purposes, not for identification” printed prominently across their face. Today Social Security numbers are an unofficial and universal form of national ID without which it is difficult to function in the mainstream of society.
Two-thousand and thirteen moves faster than 1935. The evolution of Social Security numbers from innocuous from ubiquitous took decades; the evolution of S.744 may take months. Moreover, the Act does not restrain the type of biometric data to be gathered and used. Although S.744 currently mandates only the storing of photographs, it explicitly provides for the “development of specific and effective additional security measures to adequately verify the identity of an individual whose identity may not be verified using the photo tool.” The Act makes vague reference to “additional security measures” that may be required to keep up “with technological advances” and to provide “a high level of certainty as to…identity.” Vagueness in law favors the state. The news outlet Policymic observed, “There is no higher level of certainty than DNA.”
The political circumstances surrounding S.744 are also cautionary. For example, last week Senator Orrin Hatch filed a proposed amendment to launch the process of collecting biometric data (e.g. fingerprints, iris scans) on all foreigners departing the United States. This is a considerable expansion of S.744’s mission. And, yet, criticism from Hatch’s fellow-Senators focused upon the amendment’s economic cost, not upon its expansion of the Act.
Of course, any mission drift is likely to occur in silence, except for the official denials that it is occurring at all. Silence and denial have become the SOP of government agencies. Civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald addressed the recent revelation that “all digital communications — meaning telephone calls, emails, online chats and the like — are automatically recorded and stored and accessible to the government after the fact.” Greenwald identifies this process as the very definition of the “ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State”. Why do Americans tolerate total surveillance? One reason is that “[t]he real capabilities and behavior of the US surveillance state are almost entirely unknown to the American public because, like most things of significance done by the US government, it operates behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy.”
State verification is state control. The DHS could easily control social and financial interactions by delaying or refusing verification. It could create second-class citizens by tagging dissenters or others targeted for a denial of ‘privileges’ like logging onto the Internet, accessing their bank accounts, or buying land. Chris Calabrese — a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union — observed of S744, “It starts to change the relationship between the citizen and state, you do have to get permission to do things. More fundamentally, it could be the start of keeping a record of all things.”
That would constitute the start of the end.
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