Congress is considering a bill that would federalize E-Verify, creating a single, government-controlled database of highly sensitive, detailed information about every legal worker in the United States. EFF joined the ACLU, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Liberty Coalition, and dozens of other civil liberties and labor groups in urging Congress to uphold worker privacy and reject the Legal Workforce Act.

The Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2164) would require all employers to use an Internet-based program called E-Verify to check every worker against an error-prone database. In letters sent to both houses of Congress, the coalition of advocacy groups decried the implementation of a nationwide system that could lead to downstream abuses by intelligence and law enforcement groups. The proposed bill could create a bureaucratic nightmare for American businesses while trampling on the privacy rights of workers.

The civil liberties groups raised particular concerns over identity theft. The Chronology of Data Breaches—a review of all public, sensitive records exposed through data breaches in the U.S.—lists over 534 million records since 2005, showcasing how prone large databases are to breaches of all sorts. And these data breaches have real repercussions—increasing the likelihood of identity theft by up to four times, according to a 2009 Javelin Research & Strategy study. The E-Verify proposal would make a database that includes information on every legal United States worker, creating an enticement to malicious hackers and an enormous risk of unintended disclosure.

EFF and the other advocacy groups wrote:

We believe the risks to individual privacy are too great and the likely benefits are too small to justify inserting the federal government into every hiring decision made by every employer across the country... A nationwide mandatory E-Verify system would be one of the largest and most widely accessible databases of private information ever created in the U.S. Its size and openness would present an irresistible target for identity thieves. Additionally, because the system would cover everyone eligible to work in the United States, it could quickly expand to a host of other uses for the intelligence community, law enforcement, and corporate America.

EFF also raised concerns about a pilot biometric authentication program proposed by the bill. This program would allow any employer to fingerprint all employees and would create private sector “enrollment providers”. These providers would combine biometrics, information from employers, commercial databases, and information from the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration—all for the purpose of identity verification. Such a card would exacerbate the existing problems with E-Verify by adding additional sensitive information and allowing it to be kept in the hands of private companies.

Read EFF’s comments to the House and Senate.

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