Should the US have a national biometric ID card?

February 25, 2013

MSN Money

Stephen Haag, Associate Professor-in-Residence, Department of Business Information and Analytics, speaks to MSN Money regarding a proposed national biometric ID card.

As Congress grapples with new efforts at immigration reform and the best way to deal with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., the very controversial idea of a national identification card has once again come to the fore.

The Wall Street Journal reports a bipartisan group of senators is exploring the possibility of requiring anyone working in the U.S. to carry a “high-tech identity card that could use fingerprints or other personal markers to prove a person’s legal eligibility to work.”

The costs of setting up such a system are just one of the obstacles facing a biometric national ID card. “It’s going to be a challenge for small business,” says Stephen Haag, a professor-in-residen​ce at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, who specializes in business information and analytics.

“The steep cost of initial implementation, especially if you go the biometric route — of capturing a biometric identification on everyone who is legal — would take years,” he says, “and hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Haag notes the use biometric ID systems is already common outside of national security and intelligence work. For example, fingerprint scans are being used to identify seasonal and annual pass holders at Walt Disney (DIS +0.80%) theme parks and as an entry device at some university dormitories.

Should a biometric ID card become a reality, Haag envisions a new micro-market emerging, of companies creating portable employee-verificatio​n systems that would offer their services to other businesses. “Something along the lines of…these trucks driving around now that do all the shredding that guarantee all of your sensitive documents will be 100% shredded,” he says. “I think it would be cost-prohibitive for small business to acquire and maintain the hardware and the software necessary to do it themselves.”

“Small-business owners are going to look at this and say ‘alright, what’s the odds of getting caught if I have an illegal worker, and how much is that going to cost me?'” he says. “And they’re going to weigh that against, ‘how much does it cost me to abide by the regulations?'”