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Daily News: Immigration Groups Say They Won’t Recommend IDNYC to Clients if Financial Smart Chip Plan Moves Forward

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By Jillian Jorgensen

Advocacy groups will no longer recommend that undocumented immigrants get a municipal I.D. card if the city goes forward with plans to add a financial services smart-chip to them, several said Monday.

They warned that the proposal presents massive security and privacy problems. Identities could be revealed, they said, or user data could be stolen and sold, putting undocumented New Yorkers to whom the card is marketed as safe I.D. at risk of exposure to a hostile federal government.

“Unfortunately, if this program is expanded this way, we as a community organization cannot just assure community members that this is the best way to go,” Natalia Aristizabal with immigration advocacy group Make the Road New York said. “They’re going to ask if we should be continuing to have this ID. And unfortunately, if our worries are not addressed, our answer has to be no.”

The Daily News first reported the growing concern about the plan last month. On Monday, Make the Road was one of several groups instrumental in the creation of the IDNYC to testify against the proposed changes Monday during a City Council hearing, sounding the alarm for the plan to involve a third-party financial technology company in an I.D. program where people’s personal information has been closely guarded.

Betsy Plum, a vice president at the New York Immigration Coalition, said the benefits of the card currently outweigh the risks — so the organization actively promotes it.

“If the risks start outweighing the benefits, we can’t do that anymore. And then it would be a question of depending on what it looks like, would we have to actively say no longer sign up for this card, or no longer use this card,” she told the News after the hearing. “And I think that would be such an unfortunate and depressing moment for the progress we’ve made as a city.”

The city’s goal in adding the chip is to increase access to banking services for New Yorkers, undocumented or not, who use the ID. But many groups that support that goal — including the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union and the New Economy Project — panned the city’s current plan.

“This proposal is not the way to do it,” Deyanira Del Rio, co-director of the New Economy Project, testified. “It’s vital that the Council understand just how problematic and dangerous this proposal is.”

“This sweeping integration would result in massive data collection about IDNYC cardholders and expose undocumented and other INDYC cardholders to serious risks that are unwarranted at any time, but certainly in this moment in time with a more-than-hostile federal administration,” Deyanira Del Rio, co-director of the New Economy Project, testified.

It also won’t make any more banks accept the IDNYC as a primary form of identification for opening an account, she said. Instead, it would turn the IDNYC into a reloadable debit card option, which she argued was inferior to a bank account.

The advocates spoke after Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Bitta Mostofi, who received little pressing by the Council on the security concerns and said that the city would seek a system that did not require any unique cardholder information on the chip.

“If we are not satisfied that we can obtain the protections and benefits that we seek for IDNYC cardholders, we are not under any obligation to award a contract and will not do so,” Mostofi said.

The city’s requests for proposals from companies outlines its list of requirements — including a low, transparent fee structure, an ability to be integrated with tap-card technology set to be used for the next iteration of the MetroCard, and assurances about security.

But critics pointed to growing concerns about identification cards that track a person’s location, saying just three data points can sometimes be enough to remove someone’s anonymity.

“At the Immigrant Defense Project, we repeatedly hear firsthand stories of how increased data-sharing and surveillance have put immigrants at greater risk of being targeted by ICE for deportation,” Mizue Aizeki, the group’s deputy director, said. “The City’s proposal to combine transit, health care, financial, and other functions on the IDNYC–data that will be held in large part by private vendors–not only increases the vulnerability of card holders to data breaches but it also increases the likelihood that they will be profiled, targeted, and surveilled based on this data.”