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From: IN%"[email protected]" 19-SEP-1996 22:33:45.99
To: IN%"[email protected]"
X-Mailing-List: <[email protected]> archive/latest/1308
[For those of you who are just joining us, RRE has been following a
controversy in Ontario about the use of biometric encryption to identify
welfare applicants in Toronto for purposes of fraud prevention. Critics
assert that welfare applicants are being criminalized under the cover of
combatting a fraud problem that doesn't really exist; supporters assert
that the new scheme would be less cumbersome for everyone involved than
the existing identification methods, and that, unlike most biometric
identification schemes, this encrypted scheme does not require the
applicant's fingerprint to be captured in a form that could be used for
law enforcement or other purposes. The case is important because biometric
encryption is a leading example of the "privacy-enhancing technologies"
that will become increasingly important as a technical means to reconcile
functionality and privacy in technical systems. I honestly do not know
which side is right, and I have friends among both supporters and critics
of such systems.]
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Date: Mon, 16 Sep 1996 23:49:23 -0400 (EDT)
From: Sarah Vance <[email protected]>
Subject: fingerscanning article
this an article about fingerscanning that I wrote for University of
Guelph's student newspaper, the "Ontarion", with lots of help from Orenda
Davis and Jennifer Kohm. It's not as comprehensive as the info doc, but
maybe a tad more readable. sooooo please. forward. reprint. etc.
A new threat to the privacy and autonomy of all Canadians received
government's stamp of approval over the summer when Metro Toronto Council
approved a plan to fingerscan area welfare recipients. Politicians claim that
this will cut costs by reducing welfare fraud, which is estimated at under 3%
of Social Service expenditures. Social Justice advocates question the fairness
and fiscal responsibility of paying a consortium led by three large
corporations, the Royal Bank, Great West Life Assurance Co., and Unisys Canada,
millions of dollars to develop the program when welfare fraud is such an
insignificant problem. The decision seems particularly questionable since
New Zealand recently abandoned a similar system, having found that its costs
far outweighed its benefits.
A key reason for implementing the program, explains Metro's Human Services
Committee report, is to make municipal Social Services compatible with
provincial government plans to use biometric identification to "cover a range
of programs". In Spain biometrics have been used for Unemployment benefits,
and in the United States a bill was recently discussed that would have used it
for a host of programs, including health care and immigration. Technology
companies, such as Mytec, are promoting fingerscanning for these services in
Canada as well.
Fingerscanning is often confused with fingerprinting, although there are
substantial differences. In fingerscanning, a machine takes your fingerprint
pattern and converts it into a unique set of numbers and letters. A central
computer database holds these codes, which can be accessed by authorized
groups. For Metro's plan, the system would be designed to catch people trying
to receive extra benefits by applying for welfare under different aliases.
The proposition raises the specter of corporate control over the welfare
system by threatening to bring in private sponsorship. Metro Committee
documents emphasize "the further exploration of the feasibility of C.I.B.S.
[the fingerscanning plan] applications to other corporate initiatives."
The Committee's suggestions for the future of the welfare system include
"obtaining credits for our customers from various suppliers - supermarket
chains, drug chains, educational institutions, dental clinics, property
management companies, clothing stores.." Although this may sound fairly
innocuous, it erodes the privacy and freedom of choice of people struggling
below the poverty line.
Presently, program benefits like dental care only cover certain services, and
are available to limited cash amounts. The Committee's report suggests that
corporate credits, such as those from grocery or clothing stores, would be
handled in the same way: the government would control both the type of goods
individuals purchase and the amount they spend on food, education, and other
necessities. It makes it possible for politicians to decide things like
whether or not it is acceptable for poor people to buy cigarettes or junk food.
It is not inconceivable that in the future this power could deny low income
people freedom over choices as personal as buying birth control.
As well, those reliant on benefits would have to buy from corporate sponsors.
It would be irrelevant if their prices were relatively expensive, their
location inconvenient, or their policies in conflict with an individual's
cultural or political values. Currently, the government records the location,
time, and details of dental benefit transactions. It is likely that credits
from drug stores and other corporate sponsors would be monitored in the same
In spite of this, Metro Councilors are so enamored with the fingerscanning
proposal that they are prepared to recommend it for nationwide use. Toronto's
Department of Social Services even hopes to make some revenue off its
expansion by selling the scheme to other jurisdictions.
The spread of biometric identification happened similarly in the United States.
In recent years, its use on welfare recipients has become increasingly
prevalent. As the idea of biometrically identifying the public has become more
socially accepted, federal politicians have started considering its usefulness
for a myriad of services and personal information. In February, Congress
discussed a bill that would have used fingerscanning to develop a centralized
database containing personal information on every adult in the country. This
data was to be made available to a variety of government and corporate
interests. Even those claiming to be potential employers would have had access
to an individual's immigration, welfare, and health records. In Toronto,
assistance recipients can be seen as the test case for widespread use of
fingerscanning in Canada--the beginning of a slippery slope.
The Royal Bank's involvement in fingerscanning Metro welfare recipients is
particularly problematic. If the plan is implemented, all 31 200 of Toronto
assistance recipients who do not currently have bank accounts will be forced
to access their benefits from an account set up for Social Services by the
Royal Bank. The only way they will be able to do this will be through bank
machines: The Royal Bank is not interested in investing the time and resources
necessary to personally service these "clients". Instead, they have agreed to
provide a training session in which these people will be shown how to use bank
machines. However, unless this session 1) trains people not to have mental
illness 2) dismantles the cultural barriers to using bank machines and
3) teaches people to read and write English or French, many of these 31 200
people and their families will have great difficulty accessing their
There is also a question of who will pay for Royal Bank user fees. Brett
Fleming, a Bank executive involved in the negotiations, has stated that "we'll
all have to bear some of the pain". They have kindly offered to forfeit the
profits for at least two user charges per month. Fleming claims that Metro
Social Services will likely cover 5 more Interac charges per month for each of
these recipients. At current rates, this would cost taxpayers $2 340 000 a
year... Fortunately for Brett, it seems that the Royal Bank's "pain" will be
Activists in the United States, are finding it difficult to eliminate the
practice of fingerscanning, as it has quickly become entrenched in American
public policy. In Canada, biometric identification is new enough that it can
be challenged more easily. Legal and social justice groups are already mounting
campaigns to put an end to Metro's plans before the deal is finalized. A group
based in Guelph has formed with the goal of forcing the Royal Bank to withdraw
from the consortium, making it difficult for the program to proceed. The
campaign's strategy is to use a boycott to draw negative attention to the Royal
Bank, forcing them to question whether they are willing to risk their
reputation for the fingerscanning plan. The campaign is urging people
across the province to withdraw their student loans, accounts, and RRSPs from
the Bank. If you are interested in getting more information on Metro's
fingerscanning plans, or in joining the fight against it, contact Orenda Davis
@ (519)763-5292 <[email protected]>, or Sarah Vance @ (519)763-6726
FIGHT FINGERSCANNING! (it IS possible)
Join the province-wide campaign against fingerscanning, based right here in
Guelph Make funds and support available for people on welfare who risk not to
be scanned Donate resources.... photocopying, faxing, use of phones, artistic
talent, your TIME, your skills BOYCOTT THE ROYAL BANK. Put pressure on them
to withdraw from the consortium. People have already pulled their student
loans, accounts, and RRSPs from the Bank
Contact: Orenda Davis (519)763-5292 <[email protected]>, or Sarah Vance
(519)763-6726 <[email protected]>.
Date: Mon, 16 Sep 1996 23:22:19 -0400 (EDT)
From: Sarah Vance <[email protected]>
Subject: at last... the fingerscanning info doc. (fwd)
METRO TORONTO AND THE FINGERSCANNING SCHEME:
SOME OF THE FACTS THEY AREN'T TELLING US
For the last few years some of the people from Metro social services have been
working with large corporations to develop a program for fingerscanning people
on welfare. On June 19, 1996 Metro Toronto Council passed a decision
recommending that this program be implemented as soon as possible, probably
starting at the beginning of 1997. The program is complicated, and full
of very serious problems that have not been discussed in the mainstream media.
Soooo... I've tried to use plain english to explain what's going on, and how
fingerscanning will effect people on welfare, and society in general if it is
implemented. If parts of this "report" aren't clear, or if it is missing any
important info please contact me (sarah) so I can revise it. (my number and
email are listed at the end)
PART I: THE BASICS... WHAT IS IT AND HOW WOULD IT WORK?
What is biometric identification?
-the use of someone's body to identify them, whether it's by fingerscanning,
retinal scans etc..
What happens to someone when they get fingerscanned?
-when you apply for welfare you would put a couple of your fingers into the
scanning machine. That machine takes your fingerprint pattern and converts
into a unique set of numbers and letters, a "bioscrypt". It's kind of like
having your fingerprint turned into a bar code that is held in the computer's
Who has access to the fingerscans?
The bar code is, at least according to the information I've been able to find,
accessible to anyone. It is just stored in the computer, so that the computer
won't accept your fingerprint (or bar code) if you try to apply for welfare
again. Metro council is recommending that the bar codes be destroyed three
months after someone goes off of social assistance. According to them, the
only person who could access these numbers would be the person responsible for
maintaining the system. This person only accesses the system periodically to
make sure that bioscrypts have been destroyed at the appropriate time.
How often will people on welfare have to be fingerscanned?
-although Metro officials say that people will only be fingerscanned when they
register for welfare, Metro Committee documents imply that biometric id will
be used more often than that...
Human Services Committee Report #8, pg.11, (A) improving customer
identification says.."CIBS will address...ongoing confirmation of identity"
(I underlined that)
"Biometric technologies give customers a fast, non-intrusive and very reliable
way to provide indisputable proof of identity - even if they have no other
identification." but, since other id like a driver's licence etc.. will still
have to be used for enrollment, the only way this statement can be true is if
Metro is planning on fingerscanning people on welfare at other times as well.
("CIBS" is what they're calling the program, it stands for "Client
Identification and Benefit System")
Who is getting paid to develop this program?
-the Royal Bank, Great West Life Assurance, and Unisys Canada are heading the
group (or "consortium") that has won this contract
What is the Royal Bank's role in fingerscanning?
-they are providing a Metro Social Services Royal Bank account that anyone on
welfare who doesn't currently have a bank account will get their money from
What is Great West Life Assurance's role?
-they are developing a benefits card that welfare recipients will use at the
dentist's etc. instead of vouchers
What is Unisys' role?
-right now Unisys wants to provide the computer administrative backup for the
program. They also have biometric identification technology which they hope
to sell to Metro social services.
Who is providing the biometric technology for this project?
-they haven't finalized which particular type of biometric id they will use
yet (it will almost certainly be fingerscanning) once they do decide, THEN they
will start negotiating contracts with people that sell the technology...among
these corporations are Unisys Canada and Mytec.
How would the system change the way people get access to their money?
-people who already have bank accounts will get their money direct deposited
into their accounts (for many the way they access their money won't change)
-people who don't have bank accounts get Royal Bank cards that they'll take to
Royal Bank machines to withdraw their money. As of yet, there are no
provisions for people to get their money any way other than by using a Royal
Bank machine--they won't be allowed to go to tellers to take out their money.
No one is sure about what provisions will be made for bank user fees--i.e.
Where else is this happening?
-In several places across the US (eg. Los Angeles and Alameda Counties, in
California, Ohio etc..)
-In Spain fingerscanning is being used on the unemployed
How soon is Metro Toronto hoping to implement it?
-They hope to finish their negotiations and start implementing fingerscanning
as early as January of 1997.
Would fingerscanning be mandatory?
-no. at first it would only be coerced (see the section on risks of refusal,
under part 7). But Metro council recommended making it mandatory in the
future. Right now their lawyers are advising them that they will run into
serious human rights battles if they try to make fingerscanning mandatory
PART 2: SPEAKING THEIR LANGUAGE...THE MONEY ARGUMENT
How much fraud is there in the welfare system??
-between 0.5% and 3% of welfare cases are fraudulent
(ie "double-dippers --meaning that they are receiving cheques from more than
one office). This figure has been confirmed by Liberal and NDP studies,
it and includes administrative errors.
-one Metro councillor has stated that fraud is actually no more than 0.5%
-of the 10 000 calls received by Metro's fraud line, only 0.7% were confirmed
as double-dippers (globe, June 20) most of the people that were reported
weren't even on welfare
-when discussing the amount of fraud in the welfare system it is essential to
ask why people on social assistance commit fraud. This requires ackowledging
that in 1993 (before the 21.6% cut to assistance cheques) maximum welfare
payments were still well below Stats Canada's poverty line
How much of taxpayer's money will it cost to install the system?
-$4-8 million to install for Metro (globe and mail, june 20)
-the cost is of installation is still being negotiated
-as far as I know, no one involved in the planning of the project has released
estimates of the cost of training social service workers to use the system, of
changing the computer filing system, of maintaining the new system etc... but
these costs are sure to be substantial
Will taxpayer's money be used to pay for the royal bank for user fees so that
social assistance recipients can get bank accounts (even though that's not what
many of them want)?
If people get bank accounts, won't they get service charges as well?
-"We'll all have to bear some of the pain", says Bank executive Brett Fleming.
He claims that the Royal Bank will probably pay for at least two uses of
Interac per month per recipient, and that social services will probably pay
for 5 more.
So... if, as Brett Fleming estimates, Metro pays for recipients to get 5 free uses of Interac per month, how much will that cost?
-there are 104 000 social assistance cases in Metro, 30% of them don't presently have bank accounts and therefore will have pseudo accounts set up at the Royal. That means that 31 200 new accounts will be set up at the royal for welfare recipients.
FOR ONE MONTH
31 200 accounts
x $6.25 5 interac charges @ $1.25/each
$195 000 per month in cost to taxpayers -> additional Bank profit
FOR ONE YEAR
$195 000 /month
x 12 months
$2 340 000 per year in cost to taxpayers--> additional Bank profit
FOR FIVE YEARS
$2 340 000 /year
x 5 years
$11 700 000 in five years in cost to taxpayers-->additional Bank profit***
***note: this calculation is made under the assumption that Interac charges
will not increase in the next five years, and that welfare rolls will remain
the same size
But can't these costs be avoided by encouraging assistance recipients to use
Royal Bank branches rather than bank machines?
Assistance recipients who are provided with pseudo Royal Bank accounts will not
be allowed to use bank branches, they will only be allowed to use bank machines.
What is vendor fraud and will the system help to decrease it?
-vendor fraud is fraud committed by professionals who provide government paid
benefits to people on welfare (eg. dentists). Although the Royal Bank has
stated that the thrust of the whole program is to decrease vendor fraud little
proof has been provided so far that this will actually happen.
-they argue that the paper vouchers that used to be used by welfare recipients
to pay for dental repairs, for instance, can fairly easily be reproduced making
it easy for vendors to charge the government for more services than they
actually provide. These paper vouchers are to be replaced by electronic cards
so that the problem of duplication will be eliminated. It is possible that
the benefit card could deter vendor fraud to some extent; However vendor
fraud can easily occur in other ways (eg. By overcharging for services, or by
charging for services that aren't neccessary....
-Also, and most importantly, detering vendor fraud has nothing to do with
biometrically identifying welfare recipients. If Metro Toronto wishes to use
the benefit card to deter fraud (although the merits of this system are
dubious) this could more inexpensively be done, and more sensibly be done,
with out being attached to biometrical identification of the poor.
Will fingerscanning save money in the longrun?
-This is questionable: New Zealand instituted this system, but ended up
abandoning it because its costs of implementation and maintenance far
outweighed the amount saved from reduced fraud.
PART 3: STIGMATIZATION
-Metro argues that they aim to decrease stigmatization of welfare recipients
by replacing cheques with bank cards, but at the same time they are thinking
about using this system to start forcing poor people to use welfare benefit
cards instead of cash for food, clothing, tuition and other basic needs.
How does this criminalize welfare recipients?
-some people argue that the only reason fingerscanning is seen as criminalizing
is because it is confused with fingerprinting. It is true that fingerscanning
technology is quite different from actual fingerprinting, but this does not
erase the common element shared by both techniques: When a person is
fingerprinted by the police it is because they are suspected of a crime, they
are considered suspicious and are therefore scrutinized. When a person is
fingerscanned for welfare it is also because they are suspected of a crime.
The crime is fraud, and by virtue of being poor and dependant on state funds
you are automatically considered suspicious and therefore scrutinized.
-by spending millions on this system the government is helping to perpetuate
the myth that our economic problems are caused by the poor.
PART 4: ISSUES OF ACCESS
Will fingerscanning make it easier for people who don't have "proper"
identification to register for benefits?
-NO. Even though this argument is often put forward, you will still have to
have exactly the same types of identification to apply for welfare.
Metro Human Services Committee report reads,
"Conventional forms of identification (e.g. driver's licence,
birth certificate) will continue to be required to establish initial
eligibility for social assistance."
(p.11, (A) Improving Customer Identification)
If welfare recipients are only allowed to withdraw money from bank machines,
how will people who have mental illnesses; do not read english or french; or
have cultural or personal reasons for not using bank machines; be able to get
-the Royal Bank says that they will provide one training session in which
people will be shown how to use bank machines. However, unless this session
1) trains people not to have mental illness 2) dismantles the cultural barriers
to using bank machines and 3) teaches people to read and write english or
french, many of the 31 200 people and their families who don't currently have
bank accounts will not have access to their assistance funds.
PART 5: ISSUES OF CORPORATE AND GOVERNMENT CONTROL
How could the project bring more corporate control to the welfare system?
-The idea of bringing in corporate sponsorship is brought up again and again
in Metro Committee documents...
pg.3, recommendation #2
that "the Corporate Administration Committee approve the continued
participation of Metro Corporate and Human Resources in the systems and
financial development of C.I.B.S. and the further exploration of the
feasibility of C.I.B.S. applications to other corporate initiatives"
the future of the welfare system???
pg.15, (B) (II)
"the delivery foundation established by CIBS will give the Division
unprecedented flexibility in the administration of program benefits. One
advantage could be to use this flexibility to optimize customer purchasing
power by obtaining credits for our customers from various suppliers -
supermarket chains, drug chains, educational institutions, dental clinics,
property management companies, clothing stores."
-This statement very strongly urges corporate sponsorship. Right now program
benefits like dental care only cover certain services (eg fillings), and are
only available to certain cash amounts. The insinuation is that any corporate
benefit credits from grocery stores, clothing stores,etc. would be
handled in the same way. ie. you would only be able to spend a certain amount
on food, clothing, education etc. You would only be able to buy certain items,
you would only be able to live in certain places.
It makes it possible for the government to do things like make it impossible
for you to buy cigarettes and junk food with your food credit. It makes it
possible for governements of the future to control whether or not you are
allowed to buy birth control and what typesof birth control you are
allowed to buy. Whatever companies sponsored the program would be the only
ones that you could buy from, even if their prices are higher than other
stores, even if they aren't located near your home, even if you have
cultural/personal/political reasons for not wanting to shop at these large
corporations. It means that poor people would no longer be entitled to basic
freedoms of choice. And like with dental benefits now, the location, time and
details of your purchases would be recorded. The kind of underwear you buy,
what you buy at the grocery store, what type of drugs you purchase, would all
be recorded by the government. It opens the door for a frightening amount of
government and corporate control and surveillance.
PART 6: A SYSTEM DESIGNED FOR EXPANSION--
WELFARE RECIPIENTS AS GUINEA PIGS.
Could fingerscanning of welfare recipients expand beyond Metro Toronto in the
-yes, Metro council recommended that they consider making it nationwide in the
"By working with its private sector partners to build an integrated customer
identification and disbursement system that meets the operational and business
needs of a large income support program, Metro will gain valuable experience
and expertise that can be applied to other jurisdictions." (pg.7 (II) )
-they are also talking about selling this program to other areas, pg.7, (II)
"There is also the potential for future revenues related to the sale of
specific applications developed for Metro to other jurisdictions. There is
clear interest in the approach the Division is taking, and the results that
will be achieved.
Could fingerscanning be used for other government programs?
-Metro Human Services Committee report (#8) explains that,
"recently, the Provincial government has announced it is assessing the
development of an identification card that could cover a range of programs....
C.I.B.S. employs technologies that will very likely be compatible, and can be
incorporated, with prospective provincial applications." (p.7, comments
and discussion Part I (c). The report goes on to clearly explain that one of
the reasons for developing biometric id for welfare recipients is because they
want to be prepared for when the province starts using fingerscanning for
-Mytec, one of the companies competing to supply the biometric technology also
hopes to apply it to (among other things) Canadian immigration and healthcare.
-The spread of biometric identification has worked similarly in the US...It's
use on welfare recipients has gradually become more and more widespread. The
acceptance of its use for this purpose has made it possible for the country to
move in the direction of using biometric id for a wide variety of services.
In Febuary, Congress discussed a bill that called for fingerscanning every
resident of the US over the age of 16 in order to develop a centralized
database of information that would have been made available to a wide variety
of government and corporate interests, including anyone who claims to be a
potential employer. Now that fingerscanning for government services has become
entrenched in the United States it is extremely difficult for people to
fight against its use. People on welfare in Toronto can be seen as the test
case for widespread use of fingerscanning in Canada, the beginning of a
PART 7: FIGHTING BACK
-Several groups in Toronto are confronting this issue as a human rights
violation. Their strategy is to use the courts in order to have
fingerscanning struck down.
What can people on welfare do to fight against this?
-Gather and publicize information about this issue (eg. through leafletting,
press releases, demonstrations, stickering, civil disobedience, street
-Join the Toronto coalition being formed by the Toronto-based group
"Low Income Families Together"
-Speak to one of the legal groups interested in pursuing fingerscanning as a
human rights issue (contact Elinor Mahoney at Parkdale Legal Services, for
-Refuse to be fingerscanned. (So far you are legally entitled to do this,
however there are risks involved that you may or may not be able to take).
Some of these risks are.... Getting your cheque later than otherwise,
(which could make it difficult to pay bills on time), being treated as
suspicious by social service workers, being harrassed
What can anyone do if they're concerned about fingerscanning?
-Make funds and support available for people on welfare who choose not to be
-Join the Toronto Coalition against fingerscanning being formed by Low Income
-Join the province-wide campaign against fingerscanning by talking with any of
the contacts listed below
-Gather and publicize info about this issue (eg through leafletting,
demonstrations, press releases, stickering, civil disobedience,
street theatre...) *the campaign against fingerscanning can provide you with
leaflets, posters, info, contacts in your area...
-voice your concerns LOUDLY to Metro Council
-Donate resources.... photocopying, faxing, use of phones, artistic talent,
your TIME, your skills (eg. with dealing with media, with strategizing, with
caring for children so people who often don't get a chance to participate in
political activities can get involved..), your computer, your legal
-Boycott the Royal Bank to put pressure on them to withdraw from the
consortium (this is the thrust of the Campaign against Fingerscanning's
strategy...people have already withdrawn their student loans, accounts, and
RRSPs from the Bank)
Who can I get more information from?
Guelph: Orenda Davis (519)763-5292, or Sarah Vance (519)763-6726
Toronto: Kirsten at Low Income Families Together (416)597-9400
or fax: (416)597-2128
or email <[email protected]> or <[email protected]>