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Bill Would Regulate Biometric Identifiers

A state law is being proposed in California to protect and safeguard the use of so-called biometric identifiers--fingerprints, voice prints, retinal prints, even face recognition--from the next generation of identity thieves.

Behind the bill are a California public interest group, the state's most prominent banking trade group, and the legislator responsible for making identity theft a crime in California.

"This bill will ensure that the widespread fraud and abuse of the social security number as an identifier will never happen to someone's fingerprints, voice print or other biological identifier," said Ed Howard, executive director of the 25-year-old Center for Law in the Public Interest, the group that drafted the landmark identity theft reform measure enacted last year.

The proposed legislation, drafted in conjunction with the California Banker's Association, is called the "Consumer Biometric Privacy Protection Act." Assembly member Kevin Murray (D-Culver City) is the bill's sponsor.

"This bill promotes responsible use of biometric identifiers to prevent identity theft while preserving the security of customer information," said Greg Wilhelm, CBA director of government relations.

The bill would:

  • Prohibit selling, exchanging, or otherwise providing biometric databases to third parties
  • Require that electronic storage of such identifiers be stored in the same manner as a company's confidential information
  • Ban the recording of someone's voice for biometric identification purposes without his or her consent.

Biometric technology is already being used in a variety of situations, including the prevention of welfare fraud. Industry experts expect its use to expand rapidly, to be used at ATMs (instead of passwords) and, eventually, most commercial transactions currently requiring a password or some form of ID, including the next generation of Internet commerce.

Howard observed that "the identifiers of name, address, social security number, and driver's license numbers have all been hopelessly compromised. With this bill, biometric identification can solve identity theft. Without this bill, we will repeat the same mistakes of the past and, before you know it, every Tom, Dick and Harriet will have access to your fingerprint, just like they have access to your social security number."



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