Among the chilling proposals in Bush’s immigration speech was a plan for a “new identification card for every legal foreign worker” that would use “biometric technology, such as digital fingerprints, to make it tamper-proof.” Tamper-proof, maybe, but would Bush’s scheme be corruption-proof?
Not if current U.S. efforts at producing hi-tech ID cards are a sign of things to come. In a series of articles for the New York Times, Eric Lipton has documented the pork and corruption that’s plauging Homeland Security’s plans for a “tamperproof identification card for airport, rail and maritime workers.” At the heart of the scandal is Kentucky Republican Congressman Harold Rogers, the chair of the subcommittee that determines DHS’s budget, and a raft of security and technology companies that contributed lavishly to Rogers’ campaign, paid for junkets to Hawaii, employed his son or are based in his home district.
The latest wrinkle in the saga involves Irish firm Daon, which bills itself as “a leading provider of biometric identity management software.” According to Lipton, Daon paid for Rogers to attend a “July 2005 conference and golf outing” in Dublin. Consequently it, along with the American Association of Airport Executives, was awarded a no-bid contract to “manage what could turn into contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars for a new airport-security program and to issue tamperproof identification cards to millions of transportation workers.” Oh yeah, and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge serves on the board of Daon which is backed by venture capitalist Dermot Desmond.
Last week, after protests from other companies in the security-technology complex, DHS scuttled the deal and opened the contract up to bidders. But Daon is still very much in the mix. And not just in the United States.
Daon recently landed a contract with Qatar to provide a “National Indentity Smartcard” using “finger, face and iris biometrics” for all citizens and residents. Daon CEO Tom Grissen said, “we have always believed that the Gulf region is of strategic importance to Daon and have built a team of technology and service experts who are focused on addressing our customer needs in the territory.”
And according to the company’s website, Daon has a contract with Ireland to create “an automated Visa application and tracking system for foreign nationals.” Daon also provides “core biometric identity assurance software” to immigration officials in Australia which is currently debating a national ID card. With countries like Japan also considering biometric identification of foreigners, Daon’s future in what it calls “advanced border control and immigration management systems” looks bright indeed.