Illinois Democrat Bill Foster is pushing for the creation of biometric passports as a security measure for cryptocurrency platforms. The passports would be comparable to driver’s licenses, insofar as they would contain identifying information that could be used to verify someone’s identity during a cryptocurrency transaction.
The use of biometrics would simply help with deduplication and discourage fraud. In that regard, Foster argued that linking crypto interactions to real identities would make it more difficult to use crypto platforms to be used in ransomware attacks. Such attacks have become more common in the past few years, and Foster believes that biometrics may be the only way to curb that particular threat.
The legislator is the chair of the House of Representatives Science Committee’s investigation and oversight panel, and made the comments at a recent hearing on data privacy. Foster has previously pitched the idea of a federal biometric identity program with his proposed Improving Digital Identity Act in 2021, and suggested that the crypto passport program could be built atop a similar foundation. The Act is intended to foster the creation of interoperable digital IDs, and would let the federal government recognize state-level biometric IDs (and biometric databases) that are based on the broader REAL ID standard.
Of course, any biometric identity system raises significant privacy concerns, especially with regards to data sharing between governments and between the private and the public sector. Foster acknowledged those problems, but believes that the potential security benefits make the technology worth pursuing. However, he was more skeptical of homomorphic encryption tech, largely because he is not yet convinced that the technology is ready for mass deployment.
In theory, homomorphic encryption would allow organizations to conduct searches while data is still obscured. During the hearing, representatives from the NIST and the NSF conceded that the technology still needs to be refined, though they are optimistic about its upside as a security tool. With that in mind, the ongoing development of homomorphic solutions could encourage lawmakers to provide funding for more research through the America COMPETES Act.