Ex-lawmakers recommend biometric smart cards to track foreign nationals

Ex-lawmakers recommend biometric smart cards to track foreign nationals

Three former members of Congress today told the House Government Reform subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations that the United States should track foreign visitors via identification cards that require fingerprint or iris scans.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Bill McCollum and Sen. Alan Simpson said such a system should be run by the Immigration and Naturalization Service with only limited access for law enforcement officials and, to some extent, employers. All three former legislators recommended setting up a special congressional commission on the matter.

But as for a national ID card for citizens, most who testified called it a bad idea.

'The question is, can we design a system [for foreign nationals] that is effective but does not hurt our civil liberties?' Gingrich said. 'The system must be high-speed and use a wireless network to connect the different agencies that would be part of it.'

A prototype system already exists to track visitors at four U.S. airports. Reps. Michael Castle (R-Del.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have introduced the Visa Integrity and Security Act, HR 3077, that would provide $36 million to extend to all airports the INS Passenger Accelerated Service System. INSPASS tracks holders of temporary visas.

McCollum and Simpson also endorsed biometric identification on state-issued driver's licenses. Many panel members said they support using driver's licenses as identifiers because the infrastructure already is in place.

Simpson called for minimum nationwide issuance standards for driver's licenses to be enacted by Congress and the states.

The subcommittee heard from Oracle Corp. senior vice president for technology Tim Hoechst, University of Maryland computer scientist Ben Shneiderman and others about setting up a national ID card program.

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