News Release

Boston Bombing and Immigration Reform: The Risks of Expanding Biometric Cybersurveillance


Hu is an assistant professor at Duke Law School and author of the forthcoming article “Biometric ID Cybersurveillance” in the Indiana Law Journal. She said today: “Some members of Congress have argued that Comprehensive Immigration Reform should be delayed in light of the Boston bombing. Others will likely call for more surveillance measures through the proposed immigration reform legislation.

“More surveillance risks this problem: turning all U.S. citizens and all lawful immigrants into potential terrorist suspects. In fact, the bipartisan Senate comprehensive immigration reform proposal that was released last week already showed signs of multiple surveillance cancers, even before the bombing. The bill includes the significant expansion of various cybersurveillance and data surveillance (dataveillance) measures. For example, it significantly increases the use of drones for border security. It also increases biometric dataveillance and the likelihood that a universal biometric database would be needed to carry out new programs created by the bill. A universal digital photo database of all citizens and non-citizens, for example, could be used by the drone program (DHS and local law enforcement) for nearly invisible tracking.

“Specifically, Section 3102 gives $1 billion to the Social Security Administration to develop a ‘fraud-resistant, tamper-resistant, wear-resistant, and identity theft-resistant’ Social Security Card. Previous debates on immigration reform have explained that a ‘high-tech’ Social Security Card will resemble a credit card and will include biometric data (e.g., digital photo, maybe fingerprint and iris scans, and at least one member of Congress suggested DNA). Section 3103 states: ‘Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary [of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security] shall submit a report to Congress on the feasibility, advantages, and disadvantages of including, in addition to a photograph, other biometric information on each employment authorization document issued by the Department.’ In short, the bill incorporates multiple provisions that include a dramatic expansion of both biometric data collection protocols and biometric database screening protocols.

“To protect the foundational principles of a democratic society, we need less surveillance not more. Mass biometric data collection and suspicionless cybersurveillance measures that treat all Americans and immigrants like potential terrorist suspects won’t make us safer.”