Sunday, April 23, 2006

Immigration solutions from the tech front

It strikes me that one of the central problems with immigration is the inability to prevent illegal aliens from working. At the core of this problem is the fact that our current social security system, like so many systems from it's era is a system of identification, rather than authentication.

An identifier for a person or thing is simply some label used to reference it. Social security number 123-45-6789 is an identifier for Joe Blow. One of Joe's Mastercard accounts may be identified by 1234 5678 9012 3456. Knowing an identifier does not mean you are the person or thing being identified. In general you would *like* identifier to be generally knowable.

An authenticator is something that demonstrates that you are the person or thing being identified. An example of this might be your password for your online banking. Authenticators tend to be either secrets, or related to secrets.

An identifier is not an authenticator, but we treat it as such with social security numbers. This leaves us playing stupid games like matching names associated with social security numbers to try to feret out potential mismatches.

I suggest a different approach.

First, revamp the social security card with a smart card. This smart card would have a private key, generated as part of the manufacturing process, that never leaves the card. At time of issuance by the Social Security administration it would be issued a digital certificate signed by the Social Security Administration. It would have a pin pad, and it's holder, by issuing it's pin, could authorize it to sign a challenge message.

Second, require employers at the time they hire someone, to submit to their social security card a challenge to be signed, and use that to verify that they are the social security card holder (ie, the challenge matches the certificate for this person issued by the Social Security Administration). Require all tax documents related to this worker to carry a copy of the workers certificate, and the signed challenge.

Third, make it a felony, with a mandatory 2 year sentence, to employ a person without verifying their Social Security card in this manner. Corporate officers should be the ones criminally liable for this sentence.

Legal immigrants would receive a social security card just like anyone else (if they were legal to work), but with a certificate that expires at the end of their visa period. This way it would be crystal clear to anyone employing them how long they may legally work.

Such cards would be hard to forge, and if the process of creation were handled correctly it would be relatively easy to trace out the source of forgeries.

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