The Case for Biometrics in Reducing Fraud

One of the worst things New York City could do, financially speaking, is to eliminate the requirement for electronic fingerprinting for people receiving food stamps and other benefits from the U.S. government. In fact, the use of electronic fingerprinting and other forms of biometrics should be expanded throughout the country to prevent literally billions of taxpayer dollars from being wasted through improper payments and outright fraud committed by recipients collecting under multiple identities and other creative methods.

According to a 2009 report published by the Cato Institute based on findings of the Government Accounting Office (GAO), approximately $1.7 billion spent annually by the government on food stamps is the result of improper payments related to fraud; for SSI the amount attributable to improper payments and fraudulent benefits is $4.6 billion annually. These are the nationwide numbers.

While few would begrudge providing assistance to the truly needy, the high incidence of fraud and abuse across many realms off our society warrant unprecedented measures to rein in this type of behavior–and biometrics is the answer regarding certain government programs.

Those who view the practice as being degrading are obviously unaware of the fact that there are certain professions that historically have required fingerprinting as a prerequisite for employment, such as financial institutions. Why would someone who has nothing to fear object to having their fingerprints taken? If someone is not applying for government benefits because of the electronic fingerprint requirement, it should raise a red flag.

Electronic fingerprinting and other forms of biometrics can’t even begin to address the annual losses to federal taxpayers resulting from fraud and other abuses of government programs which amounted to approximately $72 billion in 2008, according to the GAO, but it’s a start.

Christine Quinn, speaker of the City Council who is proposing that we put an end to electronic fingerprinting, should acquaint herself with a comprehensive report entitled Fraud and Abuse in Federal Programs, written by Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute and Tad DeHaven, budget analyst on federal and state budget issues for the Cato Institute. It is an eye-opening report and a disturbing picture of the moral decay that is taking place in our culture.

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