EPIC logo

Before the
Department of the Treasury
Washington, D.C. 20220

In the Matter of
FACT Act Biometric Study
File No. R411005

April 1, 2004

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) applauds the Department of the Treasury for soliciting public comment on the use of biometrics and similar technologies to combat identity theft.[1] EPIC is a public interest research center in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values. EPIC maintains an archive of information about biometrics online at http://www.epic.org/privacy/biometrics/.

Increased use of biometrics will not combat identity theft in an effective or cost-efficient manner. In fact, such technologies could worsen the identity theft situation for some members of the public and impose a new nationwide system of identity for virtually all Americans. Furthermore, less invasive and less costly alternatives could be implemented to effectively combat identity theft. Below, we comment that it is not necessary to implement a nationwide system of biometrics to curb identity theft. Instead, we could address identity theft in a more cost-effective and privacy-friendly manner by changing aspects of the credit granting system.

I. Less Invasive, Privacy Friendly Changes to the Credit Granting System Could Stem Identity Theft.

In performing an analysis of methods to reduce risk of identity theft, the Department of the Treasury should consider less invasive and less expensive alternatives, including making simple changes in the credit granting system. Below we propose changes that could have a dramatic effect on identity theft while avoiding the creation of a costly and privacy invasive nationwide system of biometrics.

a. To Prevent Identity Theft, The Department of the Treasury Should Address Sloppy Credit Granting Practices.

We need changes in the credit granting system to prevent impostors from opening tradelines. As Professor Daniel Solove has argued, "many modern privacy problems are systemic in nature. They are the product of information flows…"[2] Identity theft is such a problem, as the availability of personal data under current information architectures makes it simple for impostors to obtain the identifiers needed to apply for credit. Solove argues that to address these "problems that are architectural, the solutions should also be architectural."[3] By creating an architecture that secures personal information and by establishing rights for individuals and responsibilities on data collectors, we can reduce the risk of misuse of personal information. Such an architecture encourages more involvement from the individual with respect to data, and often provides incentives for companies and governments to reduce the amount of information they collect.

But even if the information architecture were revamped to create greater protections for data, identity theft may continue to occur because of lax credit granting practices. Lax granting practices have continued because the credit reporting system law treats credit issuers, such as retailers and credit card issuers, as trusted insiders. As trusted insiders, credit issuers can easily gain access to reports with or without legal justification.

Lax credit granting practices are evidenced by the number of tradelines that are extended to household pets. Most recently, Chase Manhattan bank issued a platinum visa card to one "Clifford J. Dawg."[4] In this instance, the owner of the dog had signed up for a free e-mail account in his pet's name and later received a pre-approved offer of credit for "Clifford J. Dawg." The owner found this humorous and responded to the pre-approved offer, listing nine zeros for the dog's Social Security number, the "Pupperoni Factory" as employer, and "Pugsy Malone" as the mother's maiden name. The owner also wrote on the approval: "You are sending an application to a dog! Ha ha ha." The card arrived three weeks later.[5]

Mr. Dawg's owner contacted the issuing bank to cancel the card. According to the owner, the issuing bank explained that Mr. Dawg's name had been acquired from a marketing list.[6] The issuing bank's representative joked that the incident could be used as a commercial with the slogan "Dogs don't chase us, we chase them."[7] Mr. Dawg's Visa card illustrates some of the problems with credit granting. All systems, especially complex ones that are used millions of times, can fail and occasionally produce errors. But Mr. Dawg's case suggests that there is a more systemic problem in the credit application approval process.

The financial services industry might argue that this is an isolated event. But it is not a single slip up. Credit has been offered and issued to other dogs, including Monty, a Shih-Tzu who was extended a $24,600 credit line.[8] It also has been granted to children and babies.[9] These events suggest that the credit issuers are lax in their marketing and authentication efforts. It suggests that the applications are processed by a computer, and no human error-checks them to prevent fraudulent or improper credit granting.

i. More Scrutiny Needs to Be Focused on Users of Credit Reports.

Three factors lead to lax lending practices and inadequate protection of the credit report. The first is that under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), credit reporting agencies only are required to "maintain reasonable procedures designed" to prevent unauthorized release of consumer information.[10] In practice, this means that credit reporting agencies must take some action to ensure that individuals with access to credit information use it only for permissible purposes enumerated in the Act. The Federal Trade Commission Commentary on the FCRA specifies that this standard can be met in some circumstances with a blanket certification from credit issuers that they will use reports legally.[11]

This certification standard is too weak. It allows a vast network of companies to gain access to credit reports with little oversight. It treats credit issuers and other users of credit reports as trusted insiders, and their use of credit reports and ultimate extension of credit as legitimate. The problem is that insiders can pose a serious risk to security of personal information.[12] In this context, trusted insiders can obtain credit reports for use in fraudulent credit acquisition. For instance, criminals relied upon the relationship between Ford Motor Credit Company and credit reporting agency Experian to steal credit reports for identity theft purposes.[13] To create this relationship as a trusted user of the credit system, Ford Motor Credit Company would have had to certify that it only obtained and used credit reports for permissible purposes. Nevertheless, the criminals were still able to order 30,000 reports without a permissible purpose.[14] Since this fraud occurred over a three-year period, it suggests that a mere certification does not include adequate monitoring or auditing of access to the credit database.

ii. Credit Issuers Are Lax in Customer Authentication, Causing Impostors to Gain Access to Credit.

The second factor in leading to lax issuance is that credit grantors do not have adequate standards for verifying the true identity of credit applicants. Credit issuers sometimes open tradelines to individuals who leave obvious errors on the application, such as incorrect dates of birth or fudged Social Security Numbers.[15] Identity theft expert Beth Givens has argued that many incidences of identity theft could be prevented by simply requiring grantors to more carefully review credit applications for obviously incorrect personal information.[16]

TRW Inc. v. Andrews illustrates the problems with poor standards for customer identification.[17] In that case, Adelaide Andrews visited a doctor's office in Santa Monica, California, and completed a new patient's information form that requested her name, birth date, and Social Security Number.[18] The doctor's receptionist, an unrelated woman named Andrea Andrews, copied the information and used Adelaide's Social Security Number and her own name to apply for credit in Las Vegas, Nevada. On four occasions, Trans Union released Adelaide's credit report because the Social Security Number, last name, and first initial matched. Once Trans Union released the credit reports, it made it possible for creditors to issue new tradelines. Three of the four creditors that obtained a credit report issued tradelines to the impostor based on Adelaide's file, despite the fact that the first name, birth date, and address did not match.[19]

California has attempted to address the customer identification problem by requiring certain credit grantors to comply with heightened authentication procedures. California Civil Code § 1785.14 requires credit grantors to actually match identifying information on the credit application to the report held at the credit reporting agency. Credit cannot be granted unless three identifiers from the application match those on file at the credit bureau. However, this protection only applies when an individual applies for credit at a retailer.[20]

iii. Competition to Acquire New Customers Encourages Bad Practices Contributing to Identity Theft.

The last factor is leading to irresponsible credit granting is competition to obtain new customers. Grantors have flooded the market with "pre-screened" credit offers, pre-approved solicitations of credit made to individuals who meet certain criteria. These offers are sent in the mail, giving thieves the opportunity to intercept them and accept credit in the victim's name.[21] Once credit is granted, the thief changes the address on the account in order to obtain the physical card and to prevent the victim from learning of the fraud.[22] The industry sends out billions of these pre-screened offers a year. It 1998, it was reported that 3.4 billion were sent.[23] In 2003, the estimate increased to 5 billion sent.[24]

Competition also drives grantors to quickly extend credit. Once a consumer (or impostor) expresses acceptance of a credit offer, issuers approve the transaction with great speed. Experian, one of the "big three" credit reporting agencies, performs in this task in a "magic two seconds."[25] In a scenario published in an Experian white paper on "Customer Data Integration," an individual receives a line of credit in two seconds after only supplying his name and address.[26] Such a quick response heightens the damage to business and victims alike, because thieves will generally make many applications for new credit in hopes that a fraction of them will be granted.

This evidence of sloppy credit granting practices leads us to a simple question: why should all Americans have to enroll in biometric systems to prevent identity theft when credit card companies could instead clean up their sloppy practices? Why should Americans be subject to privacy invasive systems, ones that also create new security risks, when we could first clean up an industry that regularly issues credits to pets?

b. Identity Theft Could Be Prevented Through Giving Retailers and Issuers Better Incentives to Avoid Lending to Impostors.

Retailers and credit issuers deal directly with identity thieves when they give credit to them. Accordingly, retailers and credit issuers are in a better position than victims to prevent identity theft. There should be heightened incentives for retailers and credit issuers to avoid credit granting to impostors.

Identity theft victims' attorneys have attempted to curb identity theft by bringing negligence actions against sloppy credit grantors. The goal of the cases is to establish a duty of care between the credit issuer and the identity theft victim, and thus give the issuers a stronger incentive to make decisions more responsibly. However, the courts have been reluctant to assign liability to the credit granting companies.

In Huggins v. Citibank, the South Carolina Supreme Court rejected the tort of "negligent enablement of imposter fraud."[27] In that case, the plaintiff identity theft victim alleged that banks owe a duty to identity theft victims when they negligently extend credit in their name. The defendants argued that no such duty existed because the victim was not actually a customer of the bank. Focusing on the requirement that an actual relationship exist between victim and tortfeasor before a legal duty arises, the court rejected the proposed cause of action:

"We are greatly concerned about the rampant growth of identity theft and financial fraud in this country. Moreover, we are certain that some identity theft could be prevented if credit card issuers carefully scrutinized credit card applications. Nevertheless, we…decline to recognize a legal duty of care between credit card issuers and those individuals whose identities may be stolen. The relationship, if any, between credit card issuers and potential victims of identity theft is far too attenuated to rise to the level of a duty between them.[28]

Similar suits have failed as well.[29]

An array of credit-industry groups followed the Huggins case closely and wrote briefs as amici. These included the American Bankers Association, American Financial Services Association, America's Community Bankers, Consumer Bankers Association, the Financial Services Roundtable, MasterCard International, Inc., and Visa U.S.A., Inc.[30] These groups must be concerned about liability because periodically, absurd errors in the credit business come to light, such as the Clifford J. Dawg platinum Visa card.

c. Credit Card Fraud Could be Curbed Through Technical Changes in Credit Card Number Storage and Through the Adoption of Better Credit Cards.

Some credit card fraud could be addressed through changes in storage of personal information. For instance, some online retailers store customers' credit card numbers, often without the individuals' consent. These databases of credit card numbers are honey pots for malicious crackers. While storing the credit card number with an online vendor does speed transactions and provide more convenience, it comes with a cost of heightened credit card fraud. The Department of the Treasury should consider whether the practice of retailers collecting and storing credit card numbers without consent are exposing their customers to unnecessary and unfair risk of credit card fraud.

There are other technical steps that are less invasive than biometrics that could reduce credit card fraud. For instance, it has long been technically possible to create a credit card that does not "swipe" or produce an account number until the individual enters a pin to activate the card. Encouraging the use of such cards would not implicate individuals' privacy, and allow individuals to exercise more control over their credit card numbers.

d. The Department of the Treasury Should Analyze the Role that Affiliate Sharing and Marketing Play in Causing Consumer Fraud and Identity Theft.

While information sharing can be employed to detect fraud, it can also be used to commit fraud. For instance, major financial institutions have used their customer lists to target consumers for fraudulent telemarketing schemes. Capital One,[31] Chase Manhattan,[32] Citibank,[33] First U.S.A.,[34] Fleet Mortgage,[35] GE Capital,[36] MBNA America,[37] and U.S. Bancorp[38] all have provided their customers' personal and confidential information to fraudulent telemarketers.

The financial institutions provided the telemarketers with the names, telephone numbers and other information about their customers. They also gave them the ability to charge customers' accounts without having to ask consumers to provide an account number. This practice, called preacquired account telemarketing, has subjected thousands of individuals to unauthorized charges for products and services they never wanted or ordered. In one case, during a thirteen-month period a national bank processed 95,573 cancellations of membership clubs and other products that were billed by preacquired account telemarketers without customers' authorization.[39]

In some cases, financial information flows have allowed businesses to defraud non-customers. This can occur where a bank sells personal information to another business. Charter Pacific Bank sold its database containing 3.6 million valid credit card account numbers to a convicted felon who then fraudulently billed the accounts for access to Internet pornography sites that victims had never visited.[40] In fact, approximately 45% of the victims did not even own a computer. Charter Pacific did not develop the database from its own customers' information. Instead, it compiled the information from credit card holders who had purchased goods and services from merchants that had accounts at Charter Pacific. The information included the date of sale, account number, and dollar amount of every credit card transaction processed by the bank's merchant customers. The unrestricted sharing of this information resulted in over $44 million of unauthorized charges.

Affiliate sharing can expose the elderly and other at risk consumers to increased likelihood of fraud. NationsBank, for example, shared with its affiliated securities company data on bank customers with low-risk, maturing federally insured CDs.[41] The affiliate, NationsSecurity, then aggressively marketed high-risk investments to these conservative investors, misleading many customers to believe that the investments were as safe and reliable as federally insured CDs. Many customers, including retired elderly, lost significant portions of their life savings. After an investigation, the Securities and Exchange Commission found that the companies intentionally blurred the distinction between the bank and the brokerage, and between the insured CDs and riskier investment products. Affiliate sharing of customers' information made this possible. NationsBank provided the investment representatives with maturing CD customer lists, as well as customers' financial statements and account balances. As a result, when these investment representatives called NationsBanks' customers and indicated that they were with the "investment division" of the bank, many customers reasonably believed that they were bank employees, not brokers. NationsBank is not the only bank to have engaged in such a practice. First Union settled a private lawsuit alleging a similar scheme.[42]

Many identity theft cases are "insider jobs," committed by employees who obtain access and misuse individuals' personal information stored in their employers' databanks. Other reports note that many identity fraud cases stem from the perpetrator's purchase of consumers' personal information from commercial data brokers. Financial institutions information sharing practices contribute to the risk of identity theft by greatly expanding the opportunity for thieves to obtain access to sensitive personal information.

e. Limits on Use of the Social Security Number Could Curb Identity Theft While Avoiding Privacy-Invasive Deployment of Biometrics.

Although biometric techniques provide a variety of methods to identify individuals, the best way to reduce the specific problem of identity theft is to reduce the use of the Social Security number as a record locator and personal identifier. States are now recognizing the source of the identity theft problem and have begun to enact legislation protecting use of the Social Security number. In Georgia, businesses face fines of up to $10,000 for not protecting consumer personal data. California gives consumers a right to freeze their credit report, so that no business can access it without their consent. Florida, as part of a Grand Jury Report on Identity Theft, has recently recommended that Social Security numbers be prohibited from being used as identifiers unless required by law, and that both government agencies and individuals should be held accountable for releasing personal identifying information with public records.

II. Biometrics Overview.

Biometric identification systems are automated methods of recognizing a person based on one or more physical characteristics, such as fingerprints, voice, or facial characteristics. Computer-based pattern matching is at the core of all biometric systems. The technologies available are subject to varying degrees of error, which means that there is an element of uncertainty in any match.

The accuracy of biometric systems is measured by their false acceptance and false rejection rates. A false acceptance is when the wrong individual is matched to a stored biometric. A false rejection is when an individual is not recognized who should have been. The two measures are dependent. In reducing false acceptances, the false rejection rate will increase. Reducing false rejections will cause the false acceptance rate to go up. Most biometric systems adjust false acceptances or false rejections to the type of application and the amount of security required. High security areas, such as bank vaults and military installations are protected by biometric systems that minimize fraudulent acceptances. The false acceptance rate must be low enough to prevent imposters, but as a result, people who rightfully should be accepted, are sometimes refused. In these cases, human intervention is typically available to provide authentication when the biometric system fails.

Fraud occurs when either an imposter is trying to be accepted as someone else to gain entry or usurp funds, or when an imposter is trying to avoid being recognized as someone already enrolled in the system and tries to enroll multiple times. The first is a form of identity theft, the second creates multiple identities for a single individual. Both types of fraud must be safeguarded against in any biometric system, however, depending on the application, it may be reasonable to relax one criterion to prevent the other.

There is no perfect biometric system. Each type of biometric system has its own advantages and disadvantages, and must be evaluated according to the application for which it is to be used.

a. Creating and Using an Identity Database.

There is a distinction between Authentication, Identification and Enrollment. Authentication is the easiest task for a biometric system to perform. Identification is more difficult and much more time consuming. The enrollment process determines the ultimate accuracy of the biometric system. A single biometric system can be created for identification or authentication, but not both, although the two applications can share the same database of biometric samples.

b. One-to-One Matching.

Authentication answers the question, am I who I say I am? A person presents a biometric sample, and some additional identifying data, such as a photograph or password, which is then compared to the stored sample for that person. If the person is not an imposter, the two samples should match. This is known as a one-to-one match. If a nonmatch occurs, some systems retake up to three samples from the person to find a best match. This is the simplest task of a biometric system because the independent identifiers help to corroborate the individual. The biometric acts as a secondary password to protect the individual. Authentication of an individual takes at most a few seconds.

c. One-to-Many Matching.

Identification means to answer the question, who am I? A person provides a sample biometric, sometimes without his knowledge, and the system must compare that sample to every stored record to attempt to return a match. This is known as a one-to-many match, and is done without any corroborating data. Because the matching process is based on the closeness of the new sample to a stored sample, most systems return a likely list of matches. Others return a single match if the sample is similar enough. The time for the result depends on the size of the database. The FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), which is used to identify criminals, can perform over 100,000 comparisons per second, usually completing an identification in 15 minutes with a database of over 42 million records.[43] If identification must be done on a wide-scale basis, the number of comparisons that will need to be done simultaneously will be astronomical. In addition, consumers might be unwilling to wait more than a few seconds to be able to use their bank ATMs or on-line service.

Negative identification is when an individual can be accepted to receive a benefit only if he is not yet enrolled in a database, such as a government-run welfare program or drivers registry. Even negative identification is susceptible to fraud. A person already enrolled in the system can avoid being recognized by attempting to falsify his biometric or skew the data collection. Rejecting imperfect images in the enrollment process, improves the integrity of the database, but cannot solve all enrollment problems.

d. Entering a New Person into the Database.

Enrollment is the process of introducing a new person into the database. The person's biometric must be sampled and stored together with his or her identity. The greatest problem is there is no existing guarantee as to that identity. A biometric system can only be as good as the accuracy of any background information that is relied on. If fraudulent information is used to enroll an individual, through a fake birth certificate or stolen social security number, a biometric can only verify the person is who they said they were at the time of enrollment. One important enrollment test is to match every new person against all other entries to check for duplicate entries and possible fraud. Without this check, once a person is in the database, it will be impossible to trace an imposter assuming multiple identities.

III. Identity theft will not be prevented through the use of biometrics.

Because of the numerous practical, logical, and technological flaws inherent in any biometric implementation, use of biometric technologies will not serve to effectively prevent identity theft. Instead, it will create new liabilities while draining away resources and threatening the privacy of those the technology ostensibly protects.

a. There are too many practical problems with Biometrics.

It is not possible to issue a new biometric if it is compromised.

It is important to understand that once a biometric identifier is compromised, there will be severe consequences for the individual. It is possible to replace a credit card number or a social security numbers, but how does one replace a fingerprint, voiceprint, or retina? These questions need to be considered in the design and deployment of any system of biometric identification for a large public user base.

Because biometrics systems are being sold as a more effective method for authentication and verification, it follows that users of these systems will have an increased trust, and thus reliance, in the systems performance. As such, if a biometric is compromised, the actions of the imposter who successfully circumvented the system would be more trusted than actions by non-biometric imposters as a result of the users perceived trust in the biometric system.

As a result, the trust placed in the effectiveness biometric system will act as a double edged sword that will greatly increase the damage done to victims of identity theft. Such trust in a biometric system is harmful and counterproductive for two reasons. First, because a biometric cannot be replaced if corrupted (stolen or used for identity theft), victims will effectively be expelled from the "trusted" system, prohibiting their participation in whatever the biometric system protects. Second, this trust will likely instill a false sense of security that will prompt users to entrust more valuable information to the system. This, in turn, creates a greater damage for the victim. In short, the more you entrust to the system, the more you will lose when it is corrupted.

b. It is too cost prohibitive to use biometrics on a wide-scale basis.

A user wishing to implement a biometrics system must pay for not only the "readers," but also must pay for the setup, instillation, and maintenance of a system that must be continuously updated due to the fluid nature of biometric identifiers. Additionally, a user must be financially prepared to deal with the cost of correcting the system if it is compromised with corrupted information (a knowingly forged fingerprint or vocal reproduction, etc…).

In order to deal with such a "corrupted information" problem, some companies require a card to be carried that contains an identifier embedded in a magnetic strip or smart chip.[44] Authentication is then based on the possession of the card in addition to the biometric feature. Therefore, if the information is compromised, the user will simply be issued a new card as the old one is cancelled. Thus, although the system can relatively remain effective, it is done at the expense of maintaining two infrastructures --the biometric sensors and the card readers.[45] "As a result, the costs of biometric authentication schemes will be considerably higher than those of a traditional system that is based on a card and a PIN or just on a password. These infrastructure costs pose a formidable barrier to widespread deployment of biometric technologies."[46]

c. A substantial number of people will be unable to enroll in biometric systems.

There will always be a small but substantial percentage of users who cannot enroll in biometric systems either because they are unable to produce the necessary biometric (a missing finger or eye) or they are unable to provide a quality sample at enrollment. Others repeatedly cannot match their biometric to the stored template. These individuals will never be identified by the biometric system. Even if only 1% of the general population, which is approximately 3 million people, could not participate in a biometric system, this number is significant enough to raise serious concerns about the effectiveness the system.

This fact not only raises the cost for biometric uses by requiring additional verification tools, but also increases the liability for identity theft. By accommodating those unable to participate in the biometrics system, users are unwillingly opening a backdoor to those wishing to circumvent the biometrics system. Such a liability could potentially render the existence of a biometrics system irrelevant.

Since some biometrics deteriorate with age, the elderly will be particularly affected. They will constitute the largest portion of those unable to enroll or be recognized by a biometric system. There needs to be an alternative solution for those who cannot be recognized by a biometric system so that they will not be denied rightful benefits.

d. The collection information for biometrics systems creates new threats to privacy.

It is important to recognize in the design of any system of biometric identification that the creation of a database linked to the individual and containing access to sensitive, personally identifiable information will create a new series of privacy issues. Administrators of these systems as well as those who gain access to these databases unlawfully will have access to personal information as if they were themselves the individual subject. It is conceivable that data could be altered either by administrators or by those who gain unlawful access to the database. The result would be records that wrongly indicate biometric authentication when in fact the subject did not engage in the event recorded. There are techniques to minimize these risks, but no system is foolproof.

e. There are too many technical problems with biometrics.

Biometric technology is too technologically flawed to effectively combat identity theft. In addition to inherent problems with any biometric system, the different types of biometric systems all have unique flaws, each of which are susceptible to some form of circumvention.

i. Uniqueness of biometric data is affected by time, variability and data collection.

The key to any biometric system is that the biometric being measured is unique between individuals and unchanging over time. Otherwise the stored biometric associated with an individual needs to be periodically updated. There are several factors affecting the accuracy of any identification. Biometric data collection can be affected by changes in the environment, such as positioning, lighting, shadows and background noise. But the biometrics of an individual are also susceptible to change through aging, injury and disease. Because of this, the accuracy of all biometric systems diminishes over time.

ii. Collecting biometric data introduces errors in the data.

Any biometric sample, whether a fingerprint, voice recording, or iris scan, is not matched from the raw data. There is too much data to store and compare during each attempted match, especially if the sample needs to be transmitted to a central database for matching. Instead, biometric systems use templates that represent key elements of the raw data. Face recognition systems need the most number of features to be extracted and hand scans need the least. The extracted features are compressed further into a sample template which is then compared to a stored template to determine if there is a match. Information is lost with each level of compression making it impossible to reconstruct the original scan from the extracted points. Since even minor changes in the way a sample is collected can create a different template for a single individual, matches are based on probability. Systems are adjustable to the amount of difference they will tolerate to confirm a match. The more independent the data available for matching, the more credible the match.[47]

iii. Increasing the speed of biometric systems can introduce error.

In extremely large populations, storage of templates is partitioned into characteristics, or bins, for ease of searching. These bins can be based on external characteristics such as gender or race, or they can be based on the biometric's internal characteristics. Traditional fingerprint identification has been based on the binning idea, with classifications based on whorls, loops and arches. Computerized systems take advantage of this concept. While binning can speed the time for identification and allows for better statistical matches within each bin, if a template is wrongly binned, it can never be found.[48]

f. Each type of biometric system contains substantial flaws.

i. Fingerprint scanning is the best known and most widely used biometric.

Fingerprints are the best-known and most studied biometric. Basic fingerprint technology has been around for over a century. Technically-sophisticated fingerprint scanners are available from $300 to just over $1,000, although an entire biometric installation can cost upwards of a million dollars. The FBI's IAFIS, which has cost several hundreds of millions of dollars, is 98% accurate with a database of over 42 million sets of ten-finger prints.[49] But fingerprint authentication systems still reject over 3% of authorized users when false acceptances are minimized.[50] Systems currently in use by state and local governments must use at least two-finger identification schemes in order to achieve that level of accuracy for much smaller populations, usually around a few hundred thousand people.[51]

Fingerprint patterns are created from the ridges on your fingers. The patterns, consisting of loops, whorls and arches, have been shown to be unique between people. Even on a single individual, each of the ten fingers has a different pattern. However, the ridges necessary to create the pattern age and deteriorate over time. Fingerprint templates are influenced by the pressure, position, and dryness of the finger on the scanner. Scars, calluses or cracks in the skin can change the template. While more sophisticated scanners can compensate for dirt or other contaminates, simple household cleaners can remove the ridges necessary to obtain a readable print. Even long fingernails can prevent a scanner from correctly taking a fingerprint. Still, fingerprint technology is the most cost-effective biometric available today.

ii. Retinal scans are the most accurate, but least acceptable to the public.

Retinal scans are the most accurate. They capture the pattern of blood vessels in the eye. No two patterns are the same, even between the right and left eye, or identical twins. Nor do retinal patterns change with age. The drawback to retinal scans is that typically the data capture process is also the most invasive. This makes them the most difficult to administer, thus making any sample subject to the most errors in data collection. To get a usable sample, an individual must cooperate by keeping his head fixed and focusing on a target while an infrared beam is shown through the pupil. The reflected light is then measured and captured by a camera. Retinas are also susceptible to diseases, such as glaucoma or cataracts, which would pose difficulties for those who suffer from these common conditions.[52]

iii. Iris scans are less invasive, but not proven.

Iris scans are a fairly new technology that appears to be almost as accurate as retinal scans. The advantage over retinal scans is collection of the sample template is not as invasive: a video camera is used to take a picture of the iris. Cooperation of the individual is still necessary, though. The person must be within 19 to 21 inches of the camera and focused on a target in order to get a quality scan, although work has been done with inserting lenses to sharpen the sampled image. Movement, glasses and colored contact lenses can change the template created from a single individual. Eyelids and eyelashes obscure part of the surface of the iris. Since the scan is based on the size of the pupil, drugs dilating the eye could defeat an iris scan.

Iris patterns are thought to be unique. However, since the technology is fairly new, a large enough database has not yet been assembled to prove this assumption. The iris allows for the fastest comparisons against a database, checking 100,000 records of iris codes in two seconds, compared with 15 minutes for a fingerprint scan to do the same task.[53]

iv. Face Recognition systems are the least reliable.

Face recognition is the least reliable of the biometrics available today. Lab tests by two of the nation's biggest testing centers, the Biometrics Fusion Center in West Virginia, run by the United States Department of Defense, and the International Biometric Group, a research and consulting firm in New York, show that correct matches are produced only about 54% of the time.[54]

Face recognition is a difficult task, usually requiring a system to isolate an image in a complex environment and then to compare it to a stored template that was sampled in a controlled environment. Face recognition relies on matching the same head position and angle, so several poses need to be collected to create a single template. Light, shadows, facial expression, weight gain, and sunglasses all affect the system's ability to produce a match, oftentimes making mistakes across gender. Even when the sample is taken in a similar controlled environment to the stored template, face recognition systems have trouble matching to images that were stored more than one year earlier.[55] Research groups are now trying different approaches to improve face recognition systems.

v. Other biometrics are only accurate for smaller groups of people.

Other biometric products and research are available, with differing degrees of success: signature scanners, vein patterns, gait recognition are a few. However, most are inappropriate to identity protection. For example, hand readers are currently in use in many installations. However, because they contain the smallest dataset, and because hand geometry is neither time-invariant or unique, their effectiveness breaks down in large populations, producing too many duplicate matches. Hand readers can also be defeated by jewelry and weight gain.

Voice recognition is skewed by background noise, and whether an analog or cell phone is used. While it is impossible to fool a voice recognition system through impersonation or mimicry, it is possible to use a tape recorder to commit fraud.

g. Every biometric system is subject to circumvention; some can be evaded with little difficulty.

There are several ways to try to circumvent a biometric system. False identification at enrollment, physically altering a personal biometric, skewing the sample collection by not cooperating, and hacking into or falsifying the database are all ways that biometric recognition can be compromised. Sample data could even be altered or stolen during transmission to a central database. How a biometric system is set up, protected and maintained will determine the effectiveness of the system.

One of the most often asked question is whether biometrics can be defeated by prosthetic devices. The best biometric scanners would detect a pulse or heat from the individual to make sure that the sample has come from a live human being. However, it should be noted that if biometric systems are going to be implemented on a grand scale, it is unlikely that the "best" (i.e. more expensive) scanners will be purchased, but rather the scanners will more than likely be bought with an eye toward budget.[56]

Additionally, a group of Japanese scientists have conducted a study whereby they were able to deceive fingerprint scanners with an astonishing success rate by using a mold made from a material similar to that which makes up "gummy bears."[57] The experiment, which tested 11 different types of fingerprint systems, found that all of the fingerprint systems accepted the gummy finder in their verification procedure more than 67% of the time.

VI. Conclusion

We urge the Department of the Treasury to consider non-invasive, effective methods to curb identity theft through making changes to the credit granting system. Such changes would be more cost effective and friendlier to privacy interests.

Furthermore, a system of biometric identification, for the reasons articulated above, will not combat identity theft. Such a system would be expensive to deploy, would be privacy invasive, and excessive in light of alternatives, such as requiring credit issuers to be more careful in granting credit.

Respectfully Submitted,

Chris Jay Hoofnagle
Associate Director

W. Neal Hartzog

Electronic Privacy Information Center
1718 Connecticut Ave. NW 200
Washington, DC 20009

[1] Public Comment on Formulating and Conducting a Study on the Use of Biometrics and Other Similar Technologies to Combat Identity Theft, 69 Fed. Reg. 9895, (Mar. 2, 2004) available at http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/14mar20010800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2004/04-4604.htm.
[2] Daniel J. Solove, Identity Theft, Privacy, and the Architecture of Vulnerability, 54 Hastings L. J. 1227, 1232 (2003). EPIC has attached this article to our comments.
[3] Id. at 1241. One generally accepted architectural framework is "Fair Information Practices" as specified by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. See Marc Rotenberg, What Larry Doesn't Get: Fair Information Practices and the Architecture of Privacy, 2001 Stan. Tech. L. Rev. 1 (2001); Will Thomas DeVries, Protecting Privacy in the Digital Age, 18 Berk. Tech. L.J. 283 (2003).
[4] Dog Gets Carded, Wash. Times (Jan. 30, 2004), available at http://washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20040129-031535-6234r.htm; Dog Issued Credit Card, Owner Sends In Pre-Approved Application As Joke, NBC San Diego (Jan. 28, 2004), available at http://www.nbcsandiego.com/money/2800173/detail.html.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Identity thieves feed on credit firms' lax practices, USA Today, Sept. 12, 2003, p. 11A; Kevin Hoffman, Lerner's Legacy: MBNA's customers wouldn't write such flattering obituaries, Cleveland Scene, Dec. 18, 2002; Scott Barancik, A Week in Bankruptcy Court, St. Petersburg Times, Mar. 18, 2002, p 8E.
[9] Identity Theft Resource Center, Fact Sheet 120: Identity Theft and Children, available at http://www.idtheftcenter.org/vg120.shtml.
[10] 15 U.S.C. § 1681e(a).
[11] The Federal Trade Commission is statutorily barred from promulgating regulations on the FCRA. 15 U.S.C. § 1681s(a)(4). The agency issues a non-binding commentary on the Act. Credit, Trade Practices, 16 CFR § 600, 607 (1995).
[12] Brooke A. Masters & Caroline E. Mayer, Identity Theft More Often an Inside Job, Old Precautions Less Likely to Avert Costly Crime, Experts Say, Wash. Post, Dec. 3, 2002, p. A1.
[13] Benjamin Weiser, Identity Ring Said to Victimize 30,000, N.Y. Times, Nov. 26, 2002, p A1.
[14] Id.
[15] See Nelski v. Pelland, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 663 (6th Cir. 2004) (phone company issued credit to impostor using victim's name but slightly different Social Security Number); United States v. Peyton, 353 F.3d 1080 (9th Cir. 2003) (impostors obtained six American Express cards using correct name and Social Security Number but directed all six to be sent to the impostors' home); Aylward v. Fleet Bank, 122 F.3d 616 (8th Cir. 1997) (bank issued two credit cards based on matching name and Social Security Number but incorrect address); Vazquez-Garcia v. Trans Union De P.R., Inc., 222 F. Supp. 2d 150 (D.P.R. 2002) (impostor successfully obtained credit with matching Social Security Number but incorrect date of birth and address); Dimezza v. First USA Bank, Inc., 103 F. Supp. 2d 1296 (D.N.M. 2000) (impostor obtained credit with Social Security Number match but incorrect address)..
[16] Legislative Hearing on H.R. 2622, The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, Before the Committee on Financial Services, Jul. 9, 2003 (testimony of Chris Jay Hoofnagle, Deputy Counsel, Electronic Privacy Information Center).
[17] 534 U.S. 19 (2001); Erin Shoudt, Comment. Identity theft: victims "cry out" for reform, 52 Am. U. L. Rev. 339, 346-7 (2002).
[18] 534 U.S. at 23-25.
[19] Id.
[20] Cal. Civ. Code § 1785.14(a)(1).
[21] Identity crises -- millions of Americans paying price, Chi. Tribune, Sept. 11, 2003, p2.
[22] Id.
[23] Identity Theft: How It Happens, Its Impact on Victims, and Legislative Solutions, Hearing Before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism, and Government Information, Jul. 12, 2000 (testimony of Beth Givens, Director, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse) (citing Edmund Sanders, Charges are flying over credit card pitches, L.A. Times, Jun. 15, 1999, p. D-1), available at http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/id_theft.htm.
[24] Rob Reuteman, Statistics Sum Up Our Past, Augur Our Future, Rocky Mountain News, Sept. 27, 2003, p 2C; Robert O'Harrow, Identity Crisis; Meet Michael Berry: political activist, cancer survivor, creditor's dream. Meet Michael Berry: scam artist, killer, the real Michael Berry's worst nightmare, Wash. Post Mag., Aug. 10, 2003, p W14.
[25] Experian, Inc., Customer Data Integration: The essential link for Customer Relationship Management White paper 15, 2000, available at http://www.experian.com/whitepapers/cdi_white_paper.pdf.
[26] Id.
[27] 355 S.C. 329 (SC 2003).
[28] Id. at 334.
[29] Garay v. U.S. Bancorp, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1331 (E.D.N.Y. 2004); Smith v. Citibank, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25047, (W.D. Mo. 2001); Polzer v. TRW, Inc., 256 A.D.2d 248 (N.Y. App. Div. 1998).
[30] 355 S.C. 329 (SC 2003).
[31] Office of the Washington State Attorney General, "Settlement with Discount Buying Club Highlights Privacy Concerns," Aug. 4, 2000, available at http://www.wa.gov/ago/releases/rel_branddirect_080400.html.
[32] Id.
[33] National Association of Attorneys Generals, "Multistate Actions: 27 States and Puerto Rico Settle with Citibank," Feb. 27, 2002, available at http://www.naag.org/issues/20020301-multi-citibank.php; Settlement document available at http://www.oag.state.ny.us/press/2002/feb/feb27b_02_attach.pdf.
[34] Office of the New York Attorney General, "First USA to Halt Vendor's Deceptive Solicitations," Dec. 31, 2002, available at http://www.oag.state.ny.us/press/2002/dec/dec31a_02.html.
[35] Minnesota v. Fleet Mortgage Corp., 158 F. Supp. 2d 962 (D. Minn. 2001), available at http://www.ag.state.mn.us/consumer/PR/Fleet_Opinion_61901.html.
[36] Office of the Washington State Attorney General, "Settlement with Discount Buying Club Highlights Privacy Concerns," Aug. 4, 2000, available at http://www.wa.gov/ago/releases/rel_branddirect_080400.html.
[37] Id.
[38] Office of the Minnesota Attorney General, "Minnesota AG and U.S. Bancorp Settle Customer Privacy Suit," July 11, 1999, available at http://www.ag.state.mn.us/consumer/Privacy/PR/pr_usbank_07011999.html.
[39] Supplemental Comments of the Minnesota Attorney General Office, FTC Telemarketing Sales Rule, FTC File No. R411001, http://www.ftc.gov/os/comments/dncpapercomments/supplement/minnag.pdf.
[40] Federal Trade Commission, "FTC Wins $37.5 Million Judgment from X-Rate Website Operator; Bank Sold Defendants Access to Active MasterCard, Visa Card Numbers," Sept. 7, 2000, available at http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2000/09/netfill.htm.
[41] Nationssecurities and Nationsbank, N.A., SEC Release No. 33-7532, May 4, 1998, available at http://www.sec.gov/litigation/admin/337532.txt.
[42] Risky Business in the Operating Subsidiary: How the OCC Dropped the Ball, Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Commerce., 106th Cong. (June 25, 1999) (statement of Jonathan Alpert, Sr. Partner, Baker and Rodems).
[43] What Could Biometrics Have Done?, at http://www.biometricgroup.com/e/Brief.htm (last visited Jul. 15, 2002).
[44] Deutsche Ban Research, Biometrics - hype and reality, at http://www.dbresearch.com/PROD/999/PROD0000000000043270.pdf (last visited 3-30-04). EPIC has appended this report to our testimony.
[45] Id.
[46] Id. at 6.
[47] James L. Wayman, Generalized Biometric Identification System Model, U.S. National Biometric Test Center, Proc. 31st IEEE Asilomar Conf. Signals, Systems and Computing (1997), http://www.engr.sjsu.edu/biometrics/nbtccw.pdf
[48] James L. Wayman, Large-Scale Civilian Biometric Systems, U.S. National Biometric Test Center, Proc. CardTech/SecurTech Government (1997), http://www.engr.sjsu.edu/biometrics/nbtccw.pdf.
[49] Congressional Statement, 2000 - Crime Regarding HR 3410 and Name Check Efficacy , athttp://www.fbi.gov/congress/congress00/loesch.htm (last visited Jul. 9, 2002).
[50] Erik Bowman, Everything You Need to Know About Biometrics, Identix Corporation (Jan. 2000), http://www.ibia.org/EverythingAboutBiometrics.PDF.
[51] Wayman, supra note 6.
[52] Bowman, supra note 9.
[53] John Daugman, How Iris Recognition Works, University of Cambridge, at http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/users/jgd1000/ (last visited Mar. 30, 2004).
[54] See P. Jonathon Phillips et al, An Introduction to Evaluating Biometric Systems, Computer (2000), http://www.dodcounterdrug.com/facialrecognition/DLs/Feret7.pdf.
[55] William A. Barrett, A Survey of Face Recognition Algorithms and Testing Results, U.S. National Biometric Test Center, at http://www.engr.sjsu.edu/biometrics/nbtccw.pdf (last visited Jul. 15, 2002).
[56] See e.g. Lisa Thalheim, Jan Krissler & Peter-Michael ZieglerBody Check, Heise Online, Nov. 2002, available at http://www.heise.de/ct/english/02/11/114/. EPIC has appended this article these comments.
[57] Tsutomu Matsumoto, et. al., Impact of Artificial "Gummy" Fingers on Fingerprint Systems, Prepared for Proceedigns of SPIE vol. #4677, Optical Security and Counterfeit Deterrence Techniques IV (January 2002), at http://cryptome.org/gummy.htm. The paper concludes that "gummy finders, namely artificial fingers that are easily made of cheap and readily available gelatin, were accepted by extremely high rates by particular fingerprint devices with optical or capacitive sensors." Id.

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