Law School Discussion

Social Security Numbers = De Facto National ID Card

Re: Social Security Numbers = De Facto National ID Card
« Reply #10 on: December 27, 2005, 01:12:15 AM »
Hand & Finger Geometry

People's hands and fingers are unique -- but not as unique as other traits, like fingerprints or irises. That's why businesses and schools, rather than high-security facilities, typically use hand and finger geometry readers to authenticate users, not to identify them. Disney theme parks, for example, use finger geometry readers to grant ticket holders admittance to different parts of the park. Some businesses use hand geometry readers in place of timecards.

Systems that measure hand and finger geometry use a digital camera and light. To use one, you simply place your hand on a flat surface, aligning your fingers against several pegs to ensure an accurate reading. Then, a camera takes one or more pictures of your hand and the shadow it casts. It uses this information to determine the length, width, thickness and curvature of your hand or fingers. It translates that information into a numerical template.

Hand and finger geometry systems have a few strengths and weaknesses. Since hands and fingers are less distinctive than fingerprints or irises, some people are less likely to feel that the system invades their privacy. However, many people's hands change over time due to injury, changes in weight or arthritis. Some systems update the data to reflect minor changes from day to day.

For higher-security applications, biometric systems use more unique characteristics, like voices. We'll look at voiceprint systems next.

A hand geometry scanner


Your voice is unique because of the shape of your vocal cavities and the way you move your mouth when you speak. To enroll in a voiceprint system, you either say the exact words or phrases that it requires, or you give an extended sample of your speech so that the computer can identify you no matter which words you say.

When people think of voiceprints, they often think of the wave pattern they would see on an oscilloscope. But the data used in a voiceprint is a sound spectrogram, not a wave form. A spectrogram is basically a graph that shows a sound's frequency on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis. Different speech sounds create different shapes within the graph. Spectrograms also use colors or shades of grey to represent the acoustical qualities of sound.

Speaker recognition systems use spectrograms to represent human voices.

Some companies use voiceprint recognition so that people can gain access to information or give authorization without being physically present. Instead of stepping up to an iris scanner or hand geometry reader, someone can give authorization by making a phone call. Unfortunately, people can bypass some systems, particularly those that work by phone, with a simple recording of an authorized person's password. That's why some systems use several randomly-chosen voice passwords or use general voiceprints instead of prints for specific words. Others use technology that detects the artifacts created in recording and playback.

Other systems are more difficult to bypass. We'll look at some of those next, starting with iris scanners.

Iris Scanning

Iris scanning can seem very futuristic, but at the heart of the system is a simple CCD digital camera. It uses both visible and near-infrared light to take a clear, high-contrast picture of a person's iris. With near-infrared light, a person's pupil is very black, making it easy for the computer to isolate the pupil and iris.

When you look into an iris scanner, either the camera focuses automatically or you use a mirror or audible feedback from the system to make sure that you are positioned correctly. Usually, your eye is 3 to 10 inches from the camera. When the camera takes a picture, the computer locates:

- The center of the pupil
- The edge of the pupil
- The edge of the iris
- The eyelids and eyelashes

It then analyzes the patterns in the iris and translates them into a code. Iris scanners are becoming more common in high-security applications because people's eyes are so unique (the chance of mistaking one iris code for another is 1 in 10 to the 78th power [ref]. They also allow more than 200 points of reference for comparison, as opposed to 60 or 70 points in fingerprints.

An iris scanner
The iris is a visible but protected structure, and it does not usually change over time, making it ideal for biometric identification. Most of the time, people's eyes also remain unchanged after eye surgery, and blind people can use iris scanners as long as their eyes have irises. Eyeglasses and contact lenses typically do not interfere or cause inaccurate readings.

Some people confuse iris scans with retinal scans. Retinal scans, however, are an older technology that required a bright light to illuminate a person's retina. The sensor would then take a picture of the blood vessel structure in the back of the person's eye. Some people found retinal scans to be uncomfortable and invasive. People's retinas also change as they age, which could lead to inaccurate readings.

Vein Geometry

As with irises and fingerprints, a person's veins are completely unique. Twins don't have identical veins, and a person's veins differ between their left and right sides. Many veins are not visible through the skin, making them extremely difficult to counterfeit or tamper with. Their shape also changes very little as a person ages.

Vein scanners use near-infrared light to reveal the patterns in a person's veins.

To use a vein recognition system, you simply place your finger, wrist, palm or the back of your hand on or near the scanner. A camera takes a digital picture using near-infrared light. The hemoglobin in your blood absorbs the light, so veins appear black in the picture. As with all the other biometric types, the software creates a reference template based on the shape and location of the vein structure.

Scanners that analyze vein geometry are completely different from vein scanning tests that happen in hospitals. Vein scans for medical purposes usually use radioactive particles. Biometric security scans, however, just use light that is similar to the light that comes from a remote control. NASA has lots more information on taking pictures with infrared light.

Privacy and Other Concerns

Some people object to biometrics for cultural or religious reasons. Others imagine a world in which cameras identify and track them as they walk down the street, following their activities and buying patterns without their consent. They wonder whether companies will sell biometric data the way they sell email addresses and phone numbers. People may also wonder whether a huge database will exist somewhere that contains vital information about everyone in the world, and whether that information would be safe there.

At this point, however, biometric systems don't have the capability to store and catalog information about everyone in the world. Most store a minimal amount of information about a relatively small number of users. They don't generally store a recording or real-life representation of a person's traits -- they convert the data into a code. Most systems also work in only in the one specific place where they're located, like an office building or hospital. The information in one system isn't necessarily compatible with others, although several organizations are trying to standardize biometric data.

In addition to the potential for invasions of privacy, critics raise several concerns about biometrics, such as:

- Over reliance: The perception that biometric systems are foolproof might lead people to forget about daily, common-sense security practices and to protect the system's data.
- Accessibility: Some systems can't be adapted for certain populations, like elderly people or people with disabilities.
- Interoperability: In emergency situations, agencies using different systems may need to share data, and delays can result if the systems can't communicate with each other.

As Seen on TV

Television shows and movies can make it look spectacularly easy or spectacularly difficult to get past biometric security. They usually show people trying to get past the sensors rather than replacing the data in the system with their own or "piggybacking" their way in by following someone with authorization. Here are some of the more common tricks and whether they're likely to work.


Re: Social Security Numbers = De Facto National ID Card
« Reply #11 on: January 12, 2006, 03:02:50 AM »
wow, pretty interesting thread!

Re: Social Security Numbers = De Facto National ID Card
« Reply #12 on: January 19, 2006, 12:30:14 AM »
I agree, emc, very interesting! I guess, even more interesting than your moniker :)

Re: Social Security Numbers = De Facto National ID Card
« Reply #13 on: January 20, 2006, 03:15:24 AM »

1099s and W2s
« Reply #14 on: January 22, 2006, 06:09:42 AM »

[...]e.g., strange as it may seem, you can be hired without giving your SSN to your employer.

The companies that want to contract with you for higher-paying, longer-term work usually don't want to pay in invisible cash. Cash offers them no paper trail for tax write-offs. So they either "1099 you," if you're a contractor who earns more than $600 per year from them, or they report your earnings to the IRS on a W2, if you're a wage slave. In each case, they'll ask for your SSN.

As you're probably painfully aware, employers deduct taxes from their wage slaves before paying them a dime. Contractors, on the other hand, generally get the full amount they earn and are responsible for "voluntarily" paying any taxes they owe.

1099s: Let us say you are an individual who works on your own (a sole proprietor) and you have one or more client companies. At some point in your relationship with each client, they'll ask for your SSN, usually by using the IRS's W9 form.

If your clients are small companies, they may hire you first and only ask for an SSN later in the year. This is good; it means you already have a relationship with them before they learn that you're not Numbered. They may be more motivated to work with you. Big, lawyer-ridden firms, heavily regulated businesses, and businesses in some of the nation's burgeoning People's Republic states will ask for an SSN (and possibly a business license number), up front. This is bad.

Whenever the query comes, you explain that you have no number, and inform your client business that they aren't actually required to get one from you.

This is true; under the IRS code they're only required to request your number, and continue to do so each year you do work for them. There's only a $50 fine for failing this task, and you can offer to pay that.

One of three things happens after you say you have no number.

- The company representative you're dealing with goes non-linear and you get banned from working for that firm.
- The company sends you and the IRS a report of everything they paid you for that year on the IRS's 1099-Misc. Form, without an SSN.
- The company (particularly if it's a sympathetic small business to which you've given a significant break in costs) forgets to 1099 you from that point onward.

If the company 1099s you without a number, theoretically, the IRS demands that they immediately begin withholding 29% (formerly 31%) of your earnings. They can be held liable for that amount by the IRS if they don't. Ouch.

Be aware that if you allow your clients to withhold the 29% (called backup withholding), that money will usually be stolen, either by your client or the IRS. Don't expect it to be credited to you on anyone's books, although it's supposed to be.

In practice, many smaller companies wait until the IRS demands backup withholding. The IRS, in turn, is so overburdened and can be so dinosaur-slow that you may receive your full pay for years before the IRS frightens your client into backup withholding. But once the IRS makes that demand, the stuff hits the proverbial rotary airfoil.

If you are "into" tax resistance, there are various things you can do at each stage, which may or may not save you from the dreaded backup withholding. Most of these are beyond the scope of this article. They also involve legalistic maneuvering that spotlights you as one of those "illegal tax protesters."

One alternative, however, is to continue doing business with that same client company, but on different contracting terms as described later in this article.

W2s: But let's say you're not a contractor or don't want to be. You want to be an employee. What happens to you? You apply for a regular job. They'll ask for your SSN, usually right on the application. You explain that you have no SSN, stating, "It's against my religion." Believe it or not, if your objections are religious, there are precedents on your side. However, these precedents, while hope-inspiring, aren't legally binding on anyone but the participants in the cases.

If you press the issue (perhaps subtly suggesting that you're sure the company wouldn't want to commit illegal religious discrimination), you have a miniscule chance to get hired without a number. A friend's teenaged son has now worked two summers at a regular job for the same employer without an SSN and this year the employer didn't even hassle him about it.

However, most corporations are so risk-averse and terrified of the IRS that, even if you convince a prospective boss that you have a right to work without an SSN, she'll probably find some other excuse not to hire you. With no SSN, it's really best in the long run to avoid conventional employment. If you succeed in getting a job, the employer takes out all the usual deductions, sends the money off to the feds and the states, and reports it under a "place-holder" number (999-99-9999). Again, don't count on ever seeing any of that money back

Your Own Little Corporation or Partnership
« Reply #15 on: January 22, 2006, 06:12:38 AM »
You establish a limited liability company (LLC), limited partnership (LP), or corporation in one of the states that are tax-friendly and that specialize in easy, inexpensive business incorporation. This usually means Wyoming or Nevada. Businesses can be incorporated in these states for only a few hundred dollars.

You must have a local representative (a "registered agent") with an address in that state. Very easy, people there commonly perform that function as a routine part of a law practice or business service. An officer of your new company must give an SSN. You don't want that officer to be you. In both these friendly states, you can remain anonymous while choosing a nominee officer and using that person's SSN.

The best possible officer if you can diplomatically manage it is a friend or relative who is dying and who won't be off "doing his own thing" with his identity in the years after he helps you incorporate your business. Alternatively, anyone you trust and who trusts you can become the nominal principal of your company. Many businesses that help set up corporations will provide nominee officers, as well. But for both cost and security, most Numberless folks would rather have their own nominee. Depending on the type of entity you've established, your new company then applies to the IRS for the third available type of number, the Employer Identification Number (EIN), and can also apply for a business license in the state where you'll be working.

Your shiny new business contracts with clients for work. It gives its EIN and business license number (if required), not yours. When an SSN is required, it's that of your nominee officer. Your company pays you, but probably doesn't 1099 you. (That's up to you.) If you're already working as an independent, you can contract with your existing clients under this new entity. Furthermore, you can set up a new Wyoming or Nevada company every few years if you need to.

Private Contracting
« Reply #16 on: January 22, 2006, 06:17:06 AM »
Finally, we come to one of the most interesting and least known options, private contracting.

Private contracting (as distinguished from the IRS's regulation-ridden "independent contracting") is a term used by Charlie Adams, whose service, Contract America, was one of the pioneers in this field. There are now several companies offering similar services. Some are listed below, with contact information.

Here's how it works once you've been accepted by a private contracting firm. If you are already an independent contractor getting a 1099, you simply switch to contracting under this new arrangement. Your client will probably want a new copy of form W9, which (instead of showing your information) now shows the EIN of the contracting company and the fact that the contracting company is a corporation not a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or an LLC controlled by you.

The contracting company invoices your clients. (Some may have you send the invoice, using their name and address.) Your clients pay the contracting company. Upon receiving the check, the contracting firm pays you, taking out a fee for itself. (Contract America, for instance, pays you 92% of the total and keeps 8% as their own fee. If you're lucky or persuasive, your client will cover the 8% fee.)

The beauty is that the contracting service doesn't file any paperwork on you. Also, because the service is a corporation and not a "pass-through" entity like an LLC or partnership (in which monies paid in go directly to the owners), nobody has to 1099 it. Charlie Adams reports that IRS-spooked businesses feel more secure dealing with a corporation for this type of transaction.

What if, instead of being a contractor, you're already an employee of a small business? With your employer's agreement, you resign your job, then sign on as a private contractor, with your payments going through the contracting agency. As Charlie Adams says, "If you're cashier #32 at Wal-Mart you can't persuade your employer to do this." But a small business person might see considerable advantage in it. For instance: your former employer (now your client) doesn't have to calculate, deduct, and disburse all those payroll taxes, and he doesn't have to match your Social Security or Medicare "contributions" because you're not making any such contributions. On the other hand, if you've previously been paid in cash under the table, the company hiring you now has the comfort, and the paper trail, of a recorded payment and should be willing to pay you more as a result.

Does the IRS approve of all this? Probably not. They don't respect the right of individuals to contract on their own terms, and they've taken it unto themselves to decide who can be an "independent contractor" and who must be a wage slave. Nevertheless, Contract America has been in business for approximately five years without so much as getting a letter from the IRS. I also interviewed a man who had been using another service, Accurate Consulting, for five years, and he reported he's had zero problems with the IRS under this arrangement, despite having had many IRS troubles in the past.

You must also understand that you won't be accruing any Social Security or unemployment "benefits" or any other perks. And the absence of a paper trail that makes you so happy today may come back to bite you two years from now if you decide you want to apply for a bank loan and need proof of income. Don't do this just to put a little extra money in your pocket because the long-term consequences can be profound. Do this only if you are philosophically committed to living free and making the necessary sacrifices in that cause.

Re: Social Security Numbers = De Facto National ID Card
« Reply #17 on: January 23, 2006, 12:28:02 AM »
hmmm ..

Re: Social Security Numbers = De Facto National ID Card
« Reply #18 on: January 24, 2006, 10:06:36 PM »
pourquoi, if you know all of that why are you going to law school?

Re: Social Security Numbers = De Facto National ID Card
« Reply #19 on: February 02, 2006, 10:18:54 AM »
Quite intersting!