Chertoff Says Fingerprints Aren’t ‘Personal Data’



By Peter Swire |

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has badly stumbled in discussing the Bush administration’s push to create stricter identity systems. Chertoff was recently in Canada discussing, among other topics, the so-called “Server in the Sky” program to share fingerprint databases among the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia.

In a recent briefing with Canadian press (which has yet to be picked up in the U.S.), Chertoff made the startling statement that fingerprints are “not particularly private”:

QUESTION: Some are raising that the privacy aspects of this thing, you know, sharing of that kind of data, very personal data, among four countries is quite a scary thing.

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Well, first of all, a fingerprint is hardly personal data because you leave it on glasses and silverware and articles all over the world, they’re like footprints. They’re not particularly private.

Many of us should rightfully be surprised that our fingerprints aren’t considered “personal data” by the head of DHS. Even more importantly, DHS itself disagrees. In its definition of “personally identifiable information” – the information that triggers a Privacy Impact Assessment when used by government – the Department specifically lists: “biometric identifiers (e.g., fingerprints).”

Chertoff’s comments have drawn sharp criticism from Jennifer Stoddart, the Canadian official in charge of privacy issues. “Fingerprints constitute extremely personal information for which there is clearly a high expectation of privacy,” Stoddart said.

There are compelling reasons to treat fingerprints as “extremely personal information.” The strongest reason is that fingerprints, if not used carefully, will become the biggest source of identity theft. Fingerprints shared in databases all over the world won’t stay secret for long, and identity thieves will take advantage.

A quick web search on “fake fingerprints” turns up cheap and easy methods for do-it-at-home fake fingerprints. As discussed by noted security expert Bruce Schneier, one technique is available for under $10. It was tried “against eleven commercially available fingerprint biometric systems, and was able to reliably fool all of them.” Secretary Chertof either doesn’t know about these clear results or chooses to ignore them. He said in Canada: “It’s very difficult to fake a fingerprint.”

Chertoff’s argument about leaving fingerprints lying around on “glasses and silverware” is also beside the point. Today, we leave our Social Security numbers lying around with every employer and numerous others. Yet the fact that SSNs (or fingerprints) are widely known exposes us to risk.

There have been numerous questions raised about how this Administration is treating our personal information. Secretary Chertoff’s comments show a new reason to worry – they don’t think it’s “personal” at all.

  • Kim

    These people have lost their damned minds. Next to DNA, I think fingerprints are the MOST PERSONAL DATA there is. They have taken a "terrorist" event and used it to take away all of our privacy and civil liberties. Hell, Mr. Chertoff, No. 1, go find some REAL terrorists and No. 2 FOR ONCE, DO YOU DAMNED JOB AND DEPORT ALL ILLEGAL ALIENS IN THIS COUNTRY AND ENFORCE ARTICLE 4 SECTION 4 OF OUR CONSTITUTION. All it would take is one call from our traitorous occupant of the White House the job could be done.

  • JD

    To Rabbi-Commissar Chertoff, our very lives aren't our personal property.

  • Ron

    Chertoff, like his boss bu$h, is a moron. A highly paid, self-important moron.



    Chertoff is an ISRAELI first and formost!!

    Wake the fuck up people!

  • Alex

    If they TAKE your finger prints or DNA without your permission they are stealing from you. Pure and simple.

  • paul

    Chertoff and most of Bush's administration are of Israeli descent…

    The TSA in the USA uses an Israeli company for security at ALL their commercial airlines.


  • Regarding the prominence of Israeli influence within the Bush Administration (and the US government in general), the following high profile people recently making top decisions for the United States happen to be DUAL US-Israeli citizens:

    Paul Wolfowitz

    Richard Perle

    Doug Feith

    Dov Zakheim

    George Tenet

    Michael Chertoff

    Michael Mukasey

    Marc Grossman

    Philip Zelikow

    Ari Fleischer

    Elliot Abrams

    Lewis "Scooter" Libby

    Henry Kissinger

    Are we-the people paying our taxes to a government of the United States, or Israel? Kinda hard to tell. Imagine if there was just *ONE* government official who was discovered, by chance, to be a dual US-*Palestinian* (or any other Arab/Muslim) nation…. (except perhaps Saudi….)

    There would be investigations, inquiries, grand juries, you name it, and calls of "Send him to Gitmo" by the corporate weasel media.

  • elmysterio

    Chertoff is a mouthpiece for the neo-con nazi empire… If you remember your history, Chamberlain is a historical pariah due to the fact that he 'appeased' Hitler's Germany. The sad part is, we're all doing that now with the US/UK/Israel 'axis of evil' or the 'coalition of the damned'. Chertoff should NOT be allowed to step foot on Canadian soil and should be arrested as a war criminal if he does. Same goes for the rest of the American Nazis. This is only just begun folks… the worst is yet to come.

  • Petrusque

    They will get everyone when most vulnerable. Traverllers when they must go to US (of coruse, to distonguish them from terrorists :-! , school children while they are naive ( of course, to protect them from kidnappint :-! , laid off workers when appplying for a new job ( of course, to prevent illegal immigrants from taking it :-! , each and every wone for each and any good reason they can find.

    And if the resistance is futile now, it will be much more futile to resist uppcoming tyrany when everyone is in database and easily identifiable.

  • arotuie

    please do not say bad thing about israel or else

  • Ausie

    I don't care. I am never going to go to Stalinla, I mean; 'Chertoff Land'. although I once wished to visit the United States of America.

  • patrick miller

    Can I have a copy of Chertoff's fingerprints then?

  • BlueyBlogger

    Well now, I have some news for all of you, which you can check out for yourself.

    First of all, your fingerprints are NOT yours, unless you have claimed your sovereignty in some shape or form….such as a "Claim of the Life", or returning your Birth Certificate to its original birthplace, and making the original Fiduciary the NEW Fiduciary in ALL matters. With either of these two items in place…NOBODY can touch your body without your express permission.

    Whilst you possess an ALL-CAPS name on your licence, credit card, Birth Certificate, etc, etc,..they can own your fingerprints….so, correct the situation and watch them squirm.

  • Aldo

    Chertoff – Russian translation = Son Of The Devil

  • Ringo

    Why should I give my fingerprints to a guy who looks like he just stepped off the set off "Night of the Living Dead"?

  • rgl

    "Chertoff is an ISRAELI first and formost!!"

    OK – I have no problem with acknowledging that fact. Still doesn't detract from the fact that "Chertoff, like his boss bu$h, is a moron. A highly paid, self-important moron.


  • Good point. Ideally, the US would simply pay for the projects, and let more legitimate and experienced bodies implement them.