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Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform
May 15, 2013 6:01 PM   Subscribe

A picture of you plus name, age, SS# in a National Database ACLU of Northern CA call to action. via
Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation (.pdf) is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.

Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo.
David Frum takes issue with Wired's assessment:
The idea of the government creating a massive biometric database for virtually all adult Americans is indeed terrifying, and if the story was true, would be cause for genuine outrage.

Fortunately, Wired's assertion is false.
Think progress takes issue with Frum:
Think Progress' Andrea Peterson takes issue with my claim that photos do not count as biometric data, and I think I must concur [emphasis mine]:

Your face is, in fact, a unique physiological characteristic — one technology is increasingly able to track. Even if you have a twin, there is no one in the world who has your exact face — thus an identifiable photo of your face is a piece of biometric data. That’s why the FBI Biometric Center of Excellence supports facial recognition and identification work.
posted by snaparapans (83 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wait, I thought that was my passport?

This truly is a scandal, creating a redundant system like that.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:02 PM on May 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Only 28% of Americans have a passport. (scroll to the update at the bottom for that most recent number)
posted by stoneweaver at 6:07 PM on May 15, 2013


I guess the difference is that you're not forced to have a passport. For whatever tiny difference that makes.
posted by GuyZero at 6:07 PM on May 15, 2013


It is insane how few Americans have a passport.
posted by GuyZero at 6:07 PM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I do not (nor will I ever likely be in a situation where I need to) have a passport.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 6:12 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not really, most of them don't even want to admit that there are other countries.
posted by elizardbits at 6:12 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not really, most of them don't even want to admit that there are other countries.


Or maybe some of us are downwardly mobile? So we can't afford to travel out of the country?
posted by SkylitDrawl at 6:14 PM on May 15, 2013 [45 favorites]


I don't have a passport, because I don't have a chunk of money to spend on getting it renewed and it is vanishingly unlikely that I will have enough money to travel outside the US in the next five or ten years, if ever.

This whole "oh, USians are so parochial and never go abroad like the Europeans do" routine - well hell, put me in a social democracy where I live a couple of hours by train from "abroad" and I'll be happy to travel internationally as much as you like.
posted by Frowner at 6:17 PM on May 15, 2013 [63 favorites]


Not the anti-database nutters again: this ship sailed when we invented computers – and the knee-jerk reaction is why things like identity theft, name collisions on the no-fly list, etc. are so common.

What we should be talking about is how to run such a system and the oversight necessary to prevent abuse. Right now there are tons of dark databases and a huge mess of commercial data providers circulating huge amounts of information, much of it wrong or incomplete, and the average person has no idea to tell what's attributed to them, much less correct an error. We'd all be much better off if that happened in the open, with a single responsible party.
posted by adamsc at 6:17 PM on May 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not really, most of them don't even want to admit that there are other countries.

I don't think dinosaurs co-habited the earth with humans in other countries. Why go?
posted by issue #1 at 6:22 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


This whole "oh, USians are so parochial and never go abroad like the Europeans do" routine - well hell, put me in a social democracy where I live a couple of hours by train from "abroad" and I'll be happy to travel internationally as much as you like.

"as of April 1, 2011, 64 percent of Canadians held a valid passport." .

Canada. Debunking American excuses since forever.
posted by srboisvert at 6:23 PM on May 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


"as of April 1, 2011, 64 percent of Canadians held a valid passport." .

Canada. Debunking American excuses since forever.


90% of the Canadian population is concentrated within 160 km of the US border. The converse is not true.

Simply put, it is far easier and cheaper for the average Canadian or European to cross international borders than the average American.
posted by grouse at 6:35 PM on May 15, 2013 [19 favorites]


Canada. Debunking American excuses since forever.

Easy to do when 75% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the international border with the US. The vast majority of Americans are nowhere near that close to a border. For most Americans, traveling abroad requires a flight or a very long drive...and if you don't have the money to go abroad, why burn money on a passport?

You can bet that US passport ownership rates increase closer to the Canadian or Mexican border.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 6:36 PM on May 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Who has enough vacation time to go anywhere that needs a passport?
posted by octothorpe at 6:37 PM on May 15, 2013 [17 favorites]


It makes me laugh to think of Canada and Mexico as foreign destinations. When I was a kid (OK, yes Dinosaurs roamed the land, we called them Buicks) you didn't need a passport to go to Mexico or Canada, they're on the same continent for god sakes. Honestly we didn't really think of them as all that different then here. Just slightly further away. Also, what Skylitdrawl & frowner said.
posted by evilDoug at 6:47 PM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Everyone seems to be worried about some high-tech government conspiracy, but myself I'm wondered about the consequences when the photo goes out-of-date. I mean, employers will both have access to the system and be required to check it for each potential hire. So in most cases they'll know both what you look like now and what you looked like 2–3 years ago.

It shouldn't take much effort to think up at least a dozen avenues this opens up for employment discrimination.
posted by aw_yiss at 6:50 PM on May 15, 2013 [14 favorites]


Travelling in other countries sounds neat! Now all I need is time off work and disposable income, neither of which I have any prospects of ever having!
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:51 PM on May 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


Only dangerous things can come of this - why are folks so complacent about it?
posted by anthropoid at 6:52 PM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I do travel a a lot so I have a valid passport, and have had so all my life. That said, whenever times are tough in the Grimace household, I'll tell you that travel abroad is the FIRST thing to get cut. Then domestic travel. Then traveling to anywhere that isn't a grocery store. Travel abroad is a huge luxury. Having a passport shows that you can occasionally afford that luxury. Fewer and fewer Americans can now afford that luxury, consequently fewer and fewer Americans have passports.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 6:52 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Easy to do when 75% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the international border with the US. The vast majority of Americans are nowhere near that close to a border.

50% of Australians have passports, and we are pretty much at least an 8 hour flight away from anywhere.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:52 PM on May 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


It shouldn't take much effort to think up at least a dozen avenues this opens up for employment discrimination.

Here is one I can think of pretty easily! A transgender person who is gender transitioning, and was legally female at the time of the photo and shows up to the interview presenting as male.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 6:54 PM on May 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


SkylitDrawl: Yes, transgender discrimination is the biggest thing I'm worried about here. Call me a cynic but I really think that after we have this, it will be only a matter of months before hiring managers are attending seminars on how to spot the effects of HRT on photos taken a few months apart.
posted by aw_yiss at 6:55 PM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Only dangerous things can come of this - why are folks so complacent about it?

I think it's resignation, mostly. It's not just that the horse has bolted; the horse has already reached the next town, changed its name, met a nice filly, got married, had 3 foals and then moved to the country for a quiet retirement.

Every service-based government agency has massive databases of personal information. Interagency data-matching is already widespread (probably the IRS is doing some amazing things in the interests of detecting tax fraud, if other countries are anything to go by). Governments will contine to advocate for centralised, linked databases in the name of efficiency and security and, by and large, they will win those debates.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:02 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a passport for almost 10 years before I actually used it for travel.

Because I was always losing my license.

Derail aside, I think that it may be possible to put limits on the database. Right now, an I-9 is only required after a person has been hired, so if they make it a part of this process, it would minimize discrimination effects. If they make it available before a person is hired, or as part of the screening process, then I'd be much more concerned.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:04 PM on May 15, 2013


Holy Christ, the comments in the first link are depressing as hell.
posted by RakDaddy at 7:09 PM on May 15, 2013


The database will run on an IBM 666 mainframe nicknamed "The Beast."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:14 PM on May 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


The database will be run on an IBM 666 mainframe nicknamed "The Beast."

But then what will Facebook use?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:16 PM on May 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Won't somebody think of the children?
posted by adipocere at 7:28 PM on May 15, 2013


To return to the passport thing: Australians get a minimum of four weeks of vacation per year, plus public holidays. The last time I had a week off work was 2008. My "vacation"? Well, I am fortunate enough to be allowed to take two days off at a time twice a year, so that I can have two four day weekends during which I can fly to visit my parents, my mother being in poor health and thus no longer, realistically, able to visit me. Fly? Why yes, when I have money to spend on flying, I do spend it traveling around our large country to see my blood kin.

I can't say that I'd have enough time for, say, European travel if I had four weeks' vacation every year - but it would make a road trip to Canada or Mexico a hell of a lot easier. (Although I too grew up when you did not need a passport to go to fucking Canada, for pete's sake.)

I get really tired of this routine about how I - as an American - must be some kind of parochial, uncultured moron because I don't have a passport and have done very little international travel. I have actually worked abroad enough to know that there are plenty of creepy, right-wing, ignorant folks from Europe and Australia. If those people were more parochial and unpleasant before they got on the plane, I shudder to think.
posted by Frowner at 7:31 PM on May 15, 2013 [24 favorites]


Who has enough vacation time to go anywhere that needs a passport?

Oh, I have the vacation time, I just don't have the money to afford the travel.
posted by dnash at 7:39 PM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Frum's analysis doesn't seem real solid to me, but let's include the relevant text from the bill. It's not long. It falls under the heading, "Identity Authentication Mechanism."
(iii) PHOTO TOOL.
(I) USE REQUIREMENT.—An employer seeking to hire hiring an individual who has a covered identity document shall verify the identity of such individual using the photo tool described in subclause (II).
(II) DEVELOPMENT REQUIREMENT.—The Secretary shall develop and maintain a photo tool that enables employers to match the photo on a covered identity document provided to the employer to a photo maintained by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services database.

(iv) ADDITIONAL SECURITY MEASURES.
(I) USE REQUIREMENT.—An employer seeking to hire an individual whose identity may not be verified using the photo tool described in clause (iii) shall verify the identity of such individual using the additional security measures described in subclause (II).
(II) DEVELOPMENT REQUIREMENT.—The Secretary shall develop, after publication in the Federal Register and an opportunity for public comment, specific and effective additional security measures to adequately verify the identity of an individual whose identity may not be verified using the photo tool described in clause (iii). Such additional security measures—
(aa) shall be kept up-to-date with technological advances; and
(bb) shall provide a means of identity authentication in a manner that provides a high level of certainty as to the identity of such individual, using immigration and identifying information that may include review of identity documents or background screening verification techniques using publicly available information.
Frum gets caught up in distinguishing this from "biometrics" and pointing out that the federal system would be able to include state-ID photos only if the states agree. I'm not sure the first is relevant, and I doubt the second would pose a genuine issue. Of course the states will agree, either out of politics or because it'll be a condition of some federal funding. Frum also notes that the bill explicitly does not authorize a national ID card—which is nice but again, somewhat beside the point. This is basically the technology that would have come after national ID cards, rendering them obsolete anyway.
posted by cribcage at 7:40 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it going to require states to update the photos on state-issued IDs, too? My driver's license picture is over ten years old, and it no longer resembles me all that closely. In Texas, you can renew online and as near as I can tell never actually have to update the picture.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:00 PM on May 15, 2013


Sometimes I get this real "it's smart to be worried about potential threats to basic civil liberties and the apparatus of the security state oh wait libertarian-leaning Republicans and conspiracy types also probably worry about this nevermind it's cool those people are silly" vibe around here.
posted by brennen at 8:03 PM on May 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


Easy to do when 75% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the international border with the US.

A passport is not required for Canadians to cross US borders.
posted by srboisvert at 8:06 PM on May 15, 2013


cribcage: Of course the states will agree, either out of politics or because it'll be a condition of some federal funding.

From CATO:
...the bill set[s] aside a quarter billion dollars for grants to states in order to get access to “driver’s license information as needed to confirm that a driver’s license..

the bill exempt[s] state sharing of driver’s license photos from the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act

the bill spend[s] a cool $1 billion on “fraud-resistant, tamper-resistant, wear-resistant, and identity theft-resistant social security cards,” exempting that spending from Pay-Go and other spending limits
On the other hand, both WAPO and Keven Drum think National ID is a good thing.
posted by snaparapans at 8:07 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


All of the pictures you take for licenses, state or public school ID cards are already in a database that the government can use to ID you. All this really does it consolidate a lot of information they already have.
posted by numberwang at 8:09 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


A passport is not required for Canadians to cross US borders.

...but you can't cross with just a plain driver's license or license + b/c any more. Ya gots to have a passport, passport card, EDL, Nexus card, or something like that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:25 PM on May 15, 2013


A passport is not required for Canadians to cross US borders.

The requirements for an enhanced driver's license are pretty much as the same as getting a passport.
posted by GuyZero at 8:47 PM on May 15, 2013


...but you can't cross with just a plain driver's license or license + b/c any more. Ya gots to have a passport, passport card, EDL, Nexus card, or something like that.

And before that was true, far fewer Canadians had passports. A survey estimated that 41% of Canadians had passports in 2005, not far off from the 34% of adult Americans with passports estimated in the same survey.
posted by grouse at 9:31 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


adamsc: "We'd all be much better off if that happened in the open, with a single responsible party."

Which single responsible party is that? Democrats? Republicans? IRS? DHS?
posted by symbioid at 9:53 PM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Right now there are tons of dark databases and a huge mess of commercial data providers circulating huge amounts of information, much of it wrong or incomplete, and the average person has no idea to tell what's attributed to them, much less correct an error. We'd all be much better off if that happened in the open, with a single responsible party.
G-Man: Hello Mr. Smith, you're under arrest for the sinking of Australia.

Fellow: What? I have no idea what you're talking about, and my name's not Smith!

G-Man: Sure it is, here's your picture right in The Database.

Fellow: There must be some kind of mistake.

G-Man: Don't be silly, this isn't like the old days with all their faulty data. The Database is never wrong.
posted by 23 at 10:03 PM on May 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


I may be wrong, but I would expect an even more angry response from the average American to the idea "Americans don't get passports because their country is so fucked they can't even afford to leave" than I would for the current "Americans don't get passports because they don't want to leave".
posted by jacalata at 10:03 PM on May 15, 2013


All of the pictures you take for licenses, state or public school ID cards are already in a database that the government can use to ID you. All this really does it consolidate a lot of information they already have.

This.

90% of the Canadian population is concentrated within 160 km of the US border. The converse is not true.

Also, Canada is... Well, except for Quebec, which is properly foreign, there's not much up here that there's not an equivalent or better version of in the States. That we actually do get American tourists -- and in no small number -- has always baffled me. (What, was Ohio all booked up?)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:11 PM on May 15, 2013


Solution! Just hold up a gun next to your face when you get the picture taken; within two weeks the NRA will have successfully lobbied to shut that shit down.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:25 PM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is it going to require states to update the photos on state-issued IDs, too? My driver's license picture is over ten years old, and it no longer resembles me all that closely. In Texas, you can renew online and as near as I can tell never actually have to update the picture.

Or even better, look at Arizonas:

Arizona issues an "extended" driver license that does not expire until age 65. However, your photo and vision screening will need to be updated every 12 years.

A friend of mine has one of these, and it's worn out as shit. She already gets tons of crap for the photo being of her when she was 16, it's nowhere near expiring though(and nowhere on it does it say "renew 12 years from this date" or anything, just the expiration in the far future).

I wonder what this would do to that.
posted by emptythought at 1:39 AM on May 16, 2013


We sort of have this in the Netherlands already. In certain situations you're obliged by law to be able identify yourself to a police officer by showing a recognised form of ID, while there's also a legal obligation on your employer to keep a copy of such an ID on file for each of their employees.

What we don't have though is the requirement for the employer to check this ID against a supposedly canonical database, which is far more intrusive and open for errors or abuse. Especially in a situation where you have fifty states all with their own forms of ID and widely divergent rules for issuing and updating them. Even from just an implementation point of view, this would be a challenging job.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:45 AM on May 16, 2013


symbioid, 23: the idea being that we could have a single agency to manage a database and with the responsibility to correct it when challenged. Right now there are a ton of public and private databases, many of which you can't check or must pay to do so, and there's no reliable way to make corrections or ensure that bad data won't return from a sync. There was a horrifying story about this a few years back where people with names similar to sex offenders would laboriously get one company / agency to remove them only to find the bogus records were back a year later.
posted by adamsc at 4:10 AM on May 16, 2013


Also, Canada is... Well, except for Quebec, which is properly foreign, there's not much up here that there's not an equivalent or better version of in the States.

In my neck of the woods (upstate NY), lots of people go to Canada for live theater & other performing arts. It's a much shorter trip than going to NYC, and usually a lot cheaper.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:14 AM on May 16, 2013


It is insane how few Americans have a passport.

Why? Traveling to a foreign country is crazy expensive for a good chunk of the population. The only reason I have a passport is because my wife and I decided to do something big for our 25th anniversary and fly to Mexico. That was eight years ago. I've not used it since. I'm not adverse to going elsewhere. Hell, I'd love to travel to Europe or Japan or somewhere. But, doing so costs $$$$. And I don't have $$$$.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:42 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


jacalata: "I may be wrong, but I would expect an even more angry response from the average American to the idea "Americans don't get passports because their country is so fucked they can't even afford to leave" than I would for the current "Americans don't get passports because they don't want to leave"."

Sadly, you're probably correct. But, then again, we are talking about the average American (from the USA). Me? I'd give any of the Scandinavian countries a shot. In short, I think I'd like a "trial" leave. Alas, that doesn't seem to be available.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 5:15 AM on May 16, 2013


SkylitDrawl: Yes, transgender discrimination is the biggest thing I'm worried about here. Call me a cynic but I really think that after we have this, it will be only a matter of months before hiring managers are attending seminars on how to spot the effects of HRT on photos taken a few months apart.

Since no one has called you out on this idiocy that I spotted, take my photo ID as an example. In my state, your driver's license is good for four years. If you lose your license, you get one with your old picture--it really is a duplicate license. Change your name? Keep your picture. Change your gender? Keep your picture. You get a new picture when you renew your license. Perhaps people succeed in getting them to take a new picture, I don't know, but that's what the policy is. People have already mentioned that in other states, your picture goes unchanged for even longer, at least by default. In a picture from four years ago, someone could appear to be obviously of a different gender. No 'seminars' required, just a person with typical eyesight.

Maybe you don't care about the civil liberties implications. But you can at least not be willfully obtuse and pretend such a database couldn't have serious implications for some already discriminated against subset of the population.
posted by hoyland at 5:15 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


meanwhile, the rest of the bill will create a broad "guest worker" program who's sole purpose is to bring in non-citizen workers willing to work for low wages while denying them residency rights *and* create a convoluted, essentially punitive regime for people already living here without citizenship papers to gain basic legal protections.

just like drones, it's not the machine, it's the policy and politics behind it which is the problem.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:17 AM on May 16, 2013


Wait, aw_yiss, you said it would open avenues for employment discrimination, but not against trans people?
posted by hoyland at 5:19 AM on May 16, 2013


50% of Australians have passports, and we are pretty much at least an 8 hour flight away from anywhere.

New Zealand?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:22 AM on May 16, 2013


I may be wrong, but I would expect an even more angry response from the average American to the idea "Americans don't get passports because their country is so fucked they can't even afford to leave" than I would for the current "Americans don't get passports because they don't want to leave".

Well, I'm not angry that people make this observation - nor would I expect most mefites to be, since it's so patently, obviously true. Am I angry that this is the state of affairs? Why, of course. As someone who has been engaged in various forms of political activism since I turned fifteen, though, I don't feel that it is my fault that things are terrible. I do get upset when people from other countries (or richer people from the US) try to say that it is my fault or a failure of character that I cannot afford to travel, do not get the vacation time to travel and thus do not spend money maintaining a passport.

All of this is so hugely class modulated, too. I mean, I know people who have never left the metro area because they come from families where everyone works incredibly shitty jobs, no one has a car, no one gets meaningful vacation and even a trip to, like, Chicago would be too expensive to contemplate. I know people who feel happy that they can afford to take the megabus to Chicago and crash with a friend for a few days. I know people whose "travel" consists essentially of an economic forced migration from New Orleans. And of course, I know many people who save up over a year so that they can take a trip on the cheap to San Francisco or New York - that's their big trip. I know people who hop trains. I know people who do - in the US - the kind of thing you can no longer do in Europe as a US citizen very easily - travel from place to place working odd jobs. The people I don't know? People who are well off enough and have enough vacation time that they can travel outside the US for pleasure. My parents went to England for their honeymoon, and they've been to Canada twice. That's it. England was their really big trip. My parents both have advanced degrees and have worked full time pretty much their entire lives.

This whole sneering business about "Americans" relies on some stupid canard about how we are all actually rich and lazy and merely choose not to travel internationally.

I was actually thinking about this because I'd really like to go to Scotland. Let's assume that I could actually take ten days off so that I could travel mid-week and have a little time to cope with jet lag (unlikely). The ticket alone would be better than $1,000 dollars. If I stay in a hostel (I do want a private room, I admit) and stay in the Glasgow area and am very modest in my expenses, I can possibly do the whole trip for under $2000 - and bear in mind that this would be a cheap trip. That is, I could take this whole trip for about 1/10 of my annual income. Seriously. When you're riding a US person about their parochial refusal to travel abroad, you're essentially telling them that they should be able to drop a very, very substantial chunk of their income on travel.
posted by Frowner at 6:40 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fellow: What? I have no idea what you're talking about, and my name's not Smith!

It's Buttle. Harry Buttle.
posted by radwolf76 at 6:42 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The PBS Newshour covered this story yesterday, and they made it seem like the biggest concern was the software that recognizes facial features being such a big part of this, what with cameras on every damn light post. Basically- the "Gov'ment" could use this system to find you, anywhere you are-unless you're wearing some grocery bag or ski mask over your head-which wouldn't make you stick out at all.

SPENCER MICHELS: That's the kind of techniques they're developing at 3VR. Using computer programs, they can search large quantities of video looking for people, or cars, or objects without someone actually looking at the screen for hours.

DALE SMALL, Project Manager, 3VR: It would allow you to cut down on your search time exponentially, by the power of 10.

SPENCER MICHELS: And it's all done by the machine, by the computer?

DALE SMALL: Yes, that's correct.

SPENCER MICHELS: I don't have to look for this guy. Oh, there he is, there he is.

DALE SMALL: Correct.

Once we have his facial biometric parameters captured, it's indexed within our database. Then we match similarities to that facial profile, if you will, and bring up all the similarities to that face.

SPENCER MICHELS: And they can do the same thing with suspect cars that are recorded on a given street, using color, size and direction to make the match.

Joe Boissy, 3VR's marketing officer, says the potential is great.

JOE BOISSY, 3VR: A computer vision algorithm allows you to understand the pixels, the frames, what's happening in that video, and from that extract the information that you need, such as the facial characteristics, the license plate itself, the color, the height, the age, the gender. Any kind of demographics of individuals can also be extracted from the video.


Do systems like this actually make us safer? Do they make some people, who otherwise wouldn't, sound like paranoid dip-shits? Does it automaticlly set up a 1984 system?
If not, does it make it much easier for it to happen in the future?

Personally, for me-even on the morning of September 11th, the one thought-knowing Americans like I feel I do-I kept having was: ”Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”
We will prove that to be right, won't we.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 7:07 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


23: "
Right now there are tons of dark databases and a huge mess of commercial data providers circulating huge amounts of information, much of it wrong or incomplete, and the average person has no idea to tell what's attributed to them, much less correct an error. We'd all be much better off if that happened in the open, with a single responsible party.
G-Man: Hello Mr. Smith, you're under arrest for the sinking of Australia.

Fellow: What? I have no idea what you're talking about, and my name's not Smith!

G-Man: Sure it is, here's your picture right in The Database.

Fellow: There must be some kind of mistake.

G-Man: Don't be silly, this isn't like the old days with all their faulty data. The Database is never wrong.
"

Whew! That was close. So glad they trusted The Database, since it was me that sunk Australia.
posted by Samizdata at 7:35 AM on May 16, 2013


Want to thwart Facial Recognition ID software, Adam Harvey has done some work in that area:
posted by snaparapans at 7:53 AM on May 16, 2013


This whole sneering business about "Americans" relies on some stupid canard about how we are all actually rich and lazy and merely choose not to travel internationally.

When you're riding a US person about their parochial refusal to travel abroad

Ok, seriously, I just thought the situation was insane and now we have a "sneering canard"? I think this isn't about passports but some other issue you have. And I seriously don't read anyone as "riding" anyone about anything.

You may not personally be very rich but the US has the 6th or 8th highest per-capita income of any country (depending which list you check) whether you personally feel like you're rich or not. There are a lot of rich americans who can very easily afford to travel, even if you personally can't. The US is as full of wealthy people as it is full of poor people. Clearly if you make $20,000 a year no one in good conscience is going to give you shit about how to spend your money since clearly there are hard decisions to be made.

I certainly agree that US geography is quite different from pretty much any other country in that it has few land borders due to being so big and covers a really huge array of climates. An American can take a domestic vacation to somewhere warm pretty much year-round, which is more than can be said of Canada, Russia or most places in Europe. Whether rich or poor, all Americans enjoy a freedom to travel domestically that's pretty much unparalleled in the world.

At any rate I don't see why the mere mention that the US has low passport ownership rates creates such class rage. Maybe US passports are overpriced. Maybe years of trickle-down economics have created an income divide so wide that there's a gigantic population of people who can barely make a living wage. Maybe one of the richest countries in the world is actually pretty fucked up. Maybe it doesn't actually have anything to do with you personally at all.
posted by GuyZero at 8:01 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


David Frum wants to fucking eat you
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:03 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.

Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo.


I have a passport, but no state-issued ID or driver's license, and no plans to get one. I'm going to be really irritated if anyone ever refuses to hire me because they can't see if I "match my photo", when I have proof of citizenship and consequent work-eligibility sitting right there.

Think of it as a government version of Foursquare, with Big Brother cataloging every check-in."

Does anyone think this is a good idea?
posted by kengraham at 8:32 AM on May 16, 2013


The real reason most people in the US don't have passports is that the US is just SOOOO BIG. Growing up in VT I wen't to another, actually fairly foreign country, Quebec rather frequently. The main reason for that, other than the lower drinking age, was that Montreal was the biggest city that was also the shortest distance away. It was 2 hours to drive to Montreal and 3 hours to drive to Boston and we went to both fairly regularly but Montreal more because it was closer and, back in the day of good exchange rates, cheaper.

For a long distance trip that is more of a treat we went to NYC, Philly, or Toronto. (7, 8, and 9 hours away) For even more of a treat you would fly somewhere like Miami or Orlando to go to Disney or Space camp, but those are relatively expensive journeys.

You take someone who lives in Illinois or Missouri and the closest cities are going to be Chicago or St. Louis.

Now I live in Leeds UK and am a $150 flight away from most of europe, or a £100 train ride down to London. I've been to Munich, Carcassonne, Sete, Malaga, Grenada, Frankfurt, and will be heading to Santander and Santiago later this year. It makes sense to have a passport in Europe, but not so much if you live in the middle swath of the US. Most of the people I know in the UK have traveled to NYC, and also most of the people I know from the US have traveled to NYC. If a £100 pound visa (similar to an American Passport) were required for getting to Italy than I would find other places to go and I doubt I would ever visit, but since it isn't and it is close I'll probably visit sometime.
posted by koolkat at 8:51 AM on May 16, 2013


kengraham: I'm going to be really irritated if anyone ever refuses to hire me because they can't see if I "match my photo"
If the photo tool is not available, employers must use a system the bill would instruct the Department of Homeland Security develop. The system would “provide a means of identity authentication in a manner that provides a high level of certainty as to the identity of such individual, using immigration and identifying information that may include review of identity documents or background screening verification techniques using publicly available information.”
CATO
posted by snaparapans at 9:44 AM on May 16, 2013


I'm going to be really irritated if anyone ever refuses to hire me because they can't see if I "match my photo"

Good news - if the hiring person is a member of a different ethnic group than you, members of your ethnic group all look the same to him anyway!
posted by GuyZero at 9:52 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the photo tool is not available, employers must use a system the bill would instruct the Department of Homeland Security develop. The system would “provide a means of identity authentication in a manner that provides a high level of certainty as to the identity of such individual, using immigration and identifying information that may include review of identity documents or background screening verification techniques using publicly available information.”

This is not reassuring unless everyone gets a totally badass security clearance after their "background screening verification".

Good news - if the hiring person is a member of a different ethnic group than you, members of your ethnic group all look the same to him anyway!

I get a WHITE MALE PRIVILEGE MULTIPLIER! America fuck yeah!
posted by kengraham at 10:55 AM on May 16, 2013


Just for the record my original comment was not meant to imply that everyone has passports, it was meant to point out that we already have an entire system in place to take pictures (and for that matter collect fingerprints, etc.) and associate them with a nationally unique ID number.

Everything you could want from a proposed new system already exists in a tidy package. Since this whole act targets immigrants even the passport aspect makes sense.

Change the system to make passports free and mandatory and you're done. Plus we'll have 100% passport coverage so we can make fun of the Canadians for their piss-poor 50%.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:27 AM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


The people I don't know? People who are well off enough and have enough vacation time that they can travel outside the US for pleasure.

Man, this was a hard thing for me to adjust to, leaving the military, but I do think it's both true and not true for most Americans. I had 30 days of vacation a year and cheap flights to most places. Now, I generally have two weeks of vacation a year and cheap flights to Europe, but I understand it is not this way for most people.

However, you know what is cheap? Trips to Latin America. Or Mexico. I can fly to Mexico cheaper than I can fly to Seattle.

That said, I am sick of Europeans being all "Why don't you have a passport" when, as I recall, they don't need visas for anywhere in the Eurozone and every country is the functional equivalent of one state away for Americans.
posted by corb at 11:35 AM on May 16, 2013


Man, this was a hard thing for me to adjust to, leaving the military, but I do think it's both true and not true for most Americans. I had 30 days of vacation a year and cheap flights to most places. Now, I generally have two weeks of vacation a year and cheap flights to Europe, but I understand it is not this way for most people.

I've tried writing a comment a few times and failed, and I think you've just helped. I think there is a cultural thing where Americans without passports tend to think of leaving the country as a Big Deal and those with passports don't. (Which I don't think is anything specific to Americans. The size of the country probably means there are more than in many countries of similar wealth, though an awful lot of Americans live pretty close to a border.) Having a passport makes leaving the country something 'people like me' do and that's a powerful factor.

I've had a passport virtually since birth--I was less than one and it looked like my grandma was dying (she lived another 10 years), so off my mother and I went. That one might go to Europe is totally normal for me, but I can't imagine what growing up in a family that went to Disney World is like.* My roommate in college was Filipino-American and virtually all her relatives were in the Philippines. She'd barely left her home state, but had been to the Philippines loads of times because that's (logically) what her family's travel priority was. I went to Japan last summer and spent ages worrying about it because I couldn't imagine me going to Asia, despite having spent two years living with someone for whom it was no big deal. I could tell I was thinking (and sometimes saying) things I roll my eyes at when other people do them (yes, I am an asshole).

*This is irrelevant, but when I was little (like kindergarten and first grade) I was incredibly envious of kids who went to Disney World. I think I was convinced that if we went, I would be 'American enough'. So it's probably telling I used Disney World as an example.

That said, I am sick of Europeans being all "Why don't you have a passport" when, as I recall, they don't need visas for anywhere in the Eurozone and every country is the functional equivalent of one state away for Americans.

The Schengen Zone and the Eurozone (and the EU) don't coincide! (Sorry, this is really high on the list of things I wish people wouldn't screw up on AskMe because it tends to make their whole answer wrong. Pointing it out here is kind of needless pedantry. But maybe someone will now not screw it up on AskMe.)

Though Americans overwhelmingly don't need tourist visas in Europe (that's Belarus that's the exception).
posted by hoyland at 2:22 PM on May 16, 2013


hoyland: I explicitly said that transgender discrimination was what I was most worried about. That's pretty much word-for-word. In fact, it was the first thing on my mind when I made my earlier post.

I guess maybe I was a little too paranoid and you read that as sarcasm, but still, is it too much to ask that you give people the benefit of the doubt, or at least ask first, before calling them out like that?
posted by aw_yiss at 6:27 PM on May 16, 2013


I guess maybe I was a little too paranoid and you read that as sarcasm, but still, is it too much to ask that you give people the benefit of the doubt, or at least ask first, before calling them out like that?

Yeah, I did read it as sarcasm, I apologise. Honestly, when it comes to trans issues on Metafilter, benefit of the doubt ran out rather severely about three months ago. I feel a bit shit to have misread you so utterly. It genuinely didn't cross my mind you might not have been being sarcastic.
posted by hoyland at 8:19 PM on May 16, 2013


srboisvert: "This whole "oh, USians are so parochial and never go abroad like the Europeans do" routine - well hell, put me in a social democracy where I live a couple of hours by train from "abroad" and I'll be happy to travel internationally as much as you like.

"as of April 1, 2011, 64 percent of Canadians held a valid passport." .

Canada. Debunking American excuses since forever.
"

I would not at all be surprised if 64% of the U.S. population that lived within a 2 hour drive of Canada had passports.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:01 AM on May 18, 2013


His thoughts were red thoughts: "50% of Australians have passports, and we are pretty much at least an 8 hour flight away from anywhere."

Don't you people get like 50 weeks paid vacation?
posted by Deathalicious at 2:02 AM on May 18, 2013


Don't you people get like 50 weeks paid vacation?

We (Australians) have minimum standards for leave; generally, this is 4 weeks per year. The requirement is (currently) imposed by the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:45 PM on May 18, 2013


Anyway, I only pointed that out in response to Frowner's contention that the US was too far away from international locations for international travel: "put me in a social democracy where I live a couple of hours by train from "abroad" and I'll be happy to travel internationally as much as you like".

Australia is much more geographically isolated than the US, and Australians, as a group, travel quite a lot.

Of course, (as Frowner and others point out) there are other significant reasons for the lower rate of international travel on the part of Americans, to wit, lack of money for travel, and lack of leave.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:51 PM on May 18, 2013


Australians, as a group, travel quite a lot

This is the kind of thing that could really use a reference.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:06 PM on May 19, 2013


This is the kind of thing that could really use a reference.

I provided a link on Australia's comparatively high passport ownership rate above.

However, in 2011, Australia had the highest per capita expenditure on travel in the world (more that 4x that of the US, incidentally); see here, page 13. Couldn't find any more recent data.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:58 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tenuous. It would be nice to know who is spending all that money and where they are going.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:30 AM on May 20, 2013


Do a lot of Australians travel abroad for work? I've met tons and tons of Australians working in Asia, and it seemed like a much more casual thing than it was for me (I too was working in Asia.) Like, on one job, I met a number of Australians who popped over to Shanghai several times a year to give multi-week trainings. In 1996, it was a huge production to come to Shanghai from the US; regular middle class people did not just casually fly over to Shanghai for work.

Also, again, this whole business with "excuses" and "oh, but these [implicitly good] people near the border/doing travel/whatever have passports" is all about moralizing travel and passports, which is stupid. You are not a better human being because you have a passport. You are not a worse human being if you choose not to have one or can't have one. Whether Australian statistics are higher because Australians travel abroad for work more often due to the relative smallness of the population and the closeness of Asia or because Australians like to blow their disposable income on international travel and USians would rather go to the Grand Canyon....that's not a moral statement.

When I worked abroad, actually, the widely held belief among the locals was that the only people noisier, ruder, more nationalist and more racist than Americans were the Australians. It's irrelevant whether or not this is true on some level [I did not find it to be particularly true, although both USians and Australians seemed noisier when in groups than other foreigners did, speaking as a US person with Australian friends.] The point is that it's silly to moralize travel, when clearly the mere fact of traveling a lot does not make you kind, wise, anti-racist, etc. (One could also point to the whole "ugly American" thing - US people who do travel abroad are famous for being awful, and I doubt that's because Awful Traveling USians are all people who only travel once in their lives and are thus always n00bs.)
posted by Frowner at 9:45 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tenuous.

I fail to see how my assertion that Australians, as a group, travel 'quite a lot' is not strongly supported by evidence that Australians, per capita, spend more on travel than anyone else in the world.

However, here is an analysis from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. In brief, 6.8 million 'short term' trips (i.e., not attributable to emigration) in 2012. Australia's population is only about 22.5 million, so that is pretty significant.

Do a lot of Australians travel abroad for work?

Only 17% of those trips were business-related.

Also, again, this whole business with "excuses" and "oh, but these [implicitly good] people near the border/doing travel/whatever have passports" is all about moralizing travel and passports, which is stupid. You are not a better human being because you have a passport. You are not a worse human being if you choose not to have one or can't have one.

Yes. And yes. And yes.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:03 PM on May 21, 2013


Australians, as a group, travel quite a lot
This is the kind of thing that could really use a reference


As someone who travels quite a bit himself I am prepared to testify not only that Australians travel a lot but that every hostel in the world is legally required to have at least one Australian on the premises 24/7.

I don't know what the quota is for Germans in U.S. National parks.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:02 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I fail to see how my assertion that Australians, as a group, travel 'quite a lot' is not strongly supported by evidence that Australians, per capita, spend more on travel than anyone else in the world.

I generally don't take per capita measurements as evidence of anything in particular, as spending is never spread evenly or usually anything close to it.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:01 PM on May 24, 2013


I got really curious about whether there were any numbers on how much Australians travel, but I haven't been able to find anything that breaks down 'people' instead of just 'departures', which can include multiple trips by one person.

I did finally find this statistic - just under 10 million Australians currently have a valid passport - however the only date I can find in the page source is 2002, so I don't know if it's actually current or not. I tweeted @dfat to ask them :)
posted by jacalata at 3:36 PM on May 24, 2013


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