The use of biometric identification methods has been rising in popularity for years, with dozens of states now requiring some form of the technology on driver’s licenses and other official documents.
But a case that has been percolating in Oklahoma since 2011 could have a lot to say about biometrics going forward.
The state Supreme Court will determine whether Oklahoma’s requirement that driver’s licenses have a biometric photograph is a violation of the constitutional free exercise of religion.
Kaye Beach of Norman, Oklahoma, filed the complaint through the non-profit Rutherford Institute, explaining she was unable to renew her license after refusing to have a photo taken and give a fingerprint. She says she essentially has been turned into “a non-person” by the state because she refuses to allow her image to be distributed to a wide range of national and international crime-fighting organizations, the complaint charges.
Kaye’s claims initially were decided in favor of the state by the trial court in a summary judgment.
There was no testimony in the case before the decision, only documents.
According to John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, the trial court entered its ruling without an explanation.
The case then was reinstated on appeal because the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals found the materials submitted did not demonstrate that the state had a compelling interest in requiring the biometric photograph or in denying a requested accommodation for her religious beliefs.
He said it also was uncertain that requiring the biometric data was the least restrictive way for the state to achieve any compelling interest it had.
He pointed out that under Oklahoma’s Religious Freedom Act, when a state-law requirement imposes a substantial burden on a person’s religious beliefs or practices, the state is required to accommodate the person’s belief unless the state can show it has a compelling interest in enforcing the requirement and that enforcement is the least restrictive means available.
The institute said the case now is going to the state Supreme Court to determine whether the state has good reason to violate Beach’s beliefs “about participating in a global numbering identification system.”
She has suggested the state allow her to use a low-resolution photograph for her license, which still would provide her image but not necessarily the biometric details.
“Whatever one’s belief systems – whether a person views a biometric ID card in the form of a driver’s license or other government-issued form of identification as a violation of one’s religious beliefs or merely the long arm of Big Brother, the outcome remains the same – ultimate control by the government,” Whitehead said.
“As Kaye Beach’s case makes clear, failing to have a biometric card can render you a non-person for all intents and purposes, with your ability to work, travel, buy, sell, access health care, and so on, jeopardized.”
The case began in March 2011 when she applied to renew her license.
“Upon learning that the biometric photographs used by DPS are stored in a database that is managed and accessed by international organizations, Beach, a Christian, voiced her religious objection to the practice and asked to be allowed to use a low-resolution photograph for her license. Although Beach met all other requirements for renewing her license, DPS refused her request for an accommodation of her religious beliefs, as well as her offer to submit to a low-resolution photograph for her license, insisting that the state law does not provide for alternatives or exemptions,” the institute explained.
She’s been deprived since then of “common benefits and services that hinge on possessing a valid driver’s license, including the ability to acquire prescription medications, use her debit card, rent a hotel room or obtain a post office box.”
The lawsuit has been pending since September 2011.
The state previously argued federal law requires the option but later admitted that’s not the case.
WND reported when the case developed, the defendant named was Public Safety Commissioner Michael C. Thompson.
According to the federal Department of Homeland Security, “State-issued enhanced drivers licenses (EDLs) provide proof of identity and U.S. citizenship, are issued in a secure process, and include technology that makes travel easier. They provide travelers with a low-cost, convenient alternative for entering the United States from Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean through a land or sea port of entry, in addition to serving as a permit to drive. The department has been working with states to enhance their drivers licenses and identification documents to comply with travel rules under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), effective June 1, 2009.”
Most of the enhanced licenses have RFID radio transmitter technology as well as biometrics.
An industry report said it expects that by 2022, “annual production of biometric ‘physical’ identity credentials will peak at more than one billion a year. These biometric identity credentials – which include ePassports, national identity cards, and driver’s licenses – will eventually be replaced by next generation ‘virtual’ credentials securely stored in mobile devices and accessed via biometric authentication.”
The technology apparently first appeared in Illinois, where it is credited with preventing a large number of fraud cases.
The supplier for the state’s technology notes: “When an Illinois DMV office captures an image, it’s sent directly to the central image server, where the software creates a template for the picture it matches with thousands of other images in the database. The analysis is conducted within 25 servers by using algorithmic facial recognition, first matching images on previous licenses and identification cards, then matching the photos to other Illinois drivers’ licenses with different names. Matches are sent to the Illinois Secretary of State Driver Services Fraud Unit, which conducts further analysis to determine whether there is a case for identity fraud.”
There also are biometric palm prints, fingerprints, hand geometry, dynamic signatures, vascular patterns, irises, voices and facial features.