Setting up to fingerprint us all

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted November 1, 1999

They usually justify it with some blather about "catching illegal immigrants" come to steal away valuable American jobs -- like is going to accidentally hand Guillermo the Guatemalan gardener some $200,000 programming gig. Either that or "tracking down deadbeat dads" -- that's a good one.

In Washington in 1996 it was the former, as in the midst of the usual thousand pages of gibberish our delegates solemnly enacted Section 626(b) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibilities Act, requiring states to collect, verify and display social security numbers on state-issued driver's licenses by the year 2001, and further to make sure that by that date all drivers licenses featured "unique biometric identifiers."

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators -- the heads of the 50 state departments of motor vehicles -- got together shortly thereafter, and after some idle chatter about voiceprints and retinal scans, came to the obvious conclusion that the only technology likely to be widely available by 2001 to create "personalized biometric identifiers" on drivers licenses would be digitized fingerprints, scanned into a bar code, a magnetic strip, or an embedded chip.

("Digitized" means the fingerprints can be read out by anyone placing the driver's license into a special reader. Like, say, in a patrol car.)

"What that in essence means is that ... you will have a mandated, uniform ID that you will have to show before opening a bank account, getting a job, traveling on a plane, applying for Social Security or Medicare -- those are some of the things you won't be able to do without a federally approved ID," explains Norm Singleton, a legislative assistant for Texas Republican (and former Libertarian presidential nominee) Ron Paul.

"It's a threat to liberty," Singleton explained. "That's why Congressman Paul favors repeal of this section. There's no constitutional authority for the federal government to be telling the states what kind of ID they must issue to their citizens. ... It's another example in this country of how we're allowing the erosion of our traditional liberties and our Bill of Rights."

Fortunately, Congressman Paul and his ally on the Senate side, Richard Shelby, R-Ala., managed to strike a rare blow for the good guys, a couple of weeks back.

Backed up by the organizing efforts of the Georgia-based "Fight the Fingerprint!" group ( and such strange bedfellows as the ACLU and the Eagle Forum, these legislative freedom fighters on Sept. 30 managed to win repeal of Section 656(b) -- the national ID card.

End of story?

Um, no.

Many states now demand Social Security numbers for documents as arcane as hunting licenses. Beginning this year, Florida homeowners have to supply a Social Security number just to receive their annual "homestead" property tax exemption. In little Ruston, Louisiana, a 16-year-old honor roll student named Rachel has been fighting a lonely battle of resistance all year against a requirement that students wear a photo ID -- complete with bar-coded Social Security number -- around their necks at all times.

And here in Nevada, increasingly impatient citizens are still waiting hours in line as the Department of Motor Vehicles tries to "work the bugs out" of its new "Genesis" computer system.

"The program right now can accommodate the fingerprinting hardware or software, but that is not included in what the state has purchased so far," explains state Sen. Ann O'Connell.

But strangely, Sen. O'Connell can't remember the DMV ever mentioning they were adding the capacity to digitize fingerprints onto our drivers licenses when the department first applied for funding of Genesis, back in 1995 and '96.

"They plan to add digitized photographs within the next year and a half," Deborah King at the Legislative Counsel Bureau told me recently, "but I have read everything related to project Genesis and it (adding digitized fingerprinting) was never discussed."

DMV spokesgal Kim Evans at first said she doubted there was a capability to digitize fingerprints, "since that's not part of the package of new services we're promoting, as we ask people to be patient with us." Nonetheless, Ms. Evans agreed to check.

"Apparently regarding the capability of the system to do this biometric ID, I guess we do have the capability with the system," Ms. Evans told me when she called back. "However, we would require statutory authorization to proceed with that fingerprint issue. So we currently don't have the authority to do it, nor would we ask for it."

Scott McDonald, who runs the "Fight the Fingerprint!" web site, explains that despite the repeal, "All of the features and requirements established by section 656(b) are being, or already have been, implemented anyway. ... States have gone ahead and implemented the requirements of 656(b) out of sheer fear that section 656(b) would go into effect in 2000 as originally scheduled and they would not be in compliance."

Besides, "Guess what?" McDonald asks. "Every single one of the manufacturers went right ahead and developed equipment to produce all of these de facto 'standard' features. That's the only way they could market their equipment to the states. Most states went ahead and recently purchased new driver's license production equipment under fear that 656(b) would be implemented and they would not be in conformity. Oh, did I forget to mention that the law also established a fund for grants to upgrade their equipment? That was under section 656(b)(2). ...

"The AAMVA is going forward with their agenda, notwithstanding repeal. Go to their web page ( and ... see if there is anything there which indicates they have abandoned their agenda," McDonald advised me.

I asked Sen. O'Connell if she thinks there would be a squawk if the DMV came back to the Legislature now and specifically asked for hardware to add digitized fingerprints to every Nevada drivers license.

"I would hope there would be."

The fact remains, though, Nevada taxpayers are spending millions -- and waiting hours in line -- so our government masters can install a computer system which has a specific, purposeful, built-in capacity to digitize first the photographs, and later the fingerprints or other "unique biometric identifiers" of every Nevadan before he or she can get a driver's license.

In which case, it's really not enough for Gov. Kenny Guinn to simply throw more money and bureaucrats at this problem, in an attempt to "work out the bugs."

If that's the long-term purpose of the Genesis program, then it should be taken off line, led out behind the barn, and shot.

It's time to remind folks that the American people accepted the Farley-Roosevelt "Social Security" Ponzi scheme only on a solemn promise that the nine-digit Social Security number would never become a "National Identity Number" -- my own Social Security card, issued in the 1960s, states right across the bottom: "Nor for Purposes of Identification."

Then, the Nevada Legislature, as its first official act of the 2001 session, repealing and overruling any previous enactments to the contrary, should state for the record that no law-abiding Nevadan, in order to apply for or receive any state or local permit, license, or other government "benefit", shall ever be required to offer up his or her confidential Social Security account number (if any), nor submit to fingerprinting.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His new book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at $24.95 postpaid through Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127; by dialing 1-800-244-2224, or via web site

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