By Carlos Menchaca, Betsy Plum, Natalia Aristizabal, and Deyanira Del Rio
As the first batch of New York City’s municipal ID cards nears expiration, Mayor de Blasio is pursuing a dangerous plan that would fundamentally change the program and put New Yorkers at needless and potentially serious risk.
The plan involves embedding a “smart chip” in IDNYC cards that would ostensibly allow New Yorkers to combine financial and other functions to their cards. The proposal is fatally flawed, however, as it could expose New Yorkers to privacy, data breach, and financial and other problems. The mayor should shelve this plan immediately.
Five years ago, the City Council and the mayor worked closely with hundreds of service providers, experts and advocates to create IDNYC, an identity card for all New Yorkers. Unprecedented in scale, this massive undertaking resulted in the largest and most successful program of its kind anywhere in America.
Thanks to IDNYC, more than 1 million New Yorkers who may or may not have had official government-issued ID cards can now use their city IDs to enter their children’s schools, get prescriptions, apply for jobs, visit museums and interact with city agencies on a scale previously unimaginable.
We are talking about the most vulnerable New Yorkers — the homeless, the homebound, the elderly, the young, veterans, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community. These New Yorkers and those who serve them use the card because they trust it, knowing the city is required by law to expunge their personal information once they obtain it.
Now comes the possibility of change, advertised as progress. The city wants to partner with a third-party firm to add a financial technology chip to the cards, saying this will help the very same low-income New Yorkers helped by the ID itself.
The risks are not worth whatever benefits it would purportedly deliver. Although the city expunges personal information, financial services companies are generally bound by federal law to collect and retain this data. This means that even though the city has laws requiring it to expunge the personal data of IDNYC cardholders, those laws would not apply to the company providing the “smart chip.”
Imagine what could happen if the Trump administration subpoenaed a financial partner’s IDNYC cardholder information records. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants and other New Yorkers who believe the city has their back could be instantly at risk.
It is also unlikely that the city could prevent a financial partner from collecting anonymous data about people’s spending habits, their MTA travel, and more. Anonymous data can be used to build identifiable profiles.
Indeed, de Blasio administration officials have publicly touted ways an IDNYC financial partnership could facilitate data collection about New Yorkers’ habits. Other efforts to incorporate financial features on government-issued identification have been either very costly for users or surrounded by controversy — such as in Mexico City and Kenya.
Finally, smart-chip payment cards are a second-rate alternative to real banking services, which the city could do more to promote.
For these reasons, organizations, including many that were at the forefront of creating IDNYC in the first place, have warned they would have no choice but to discourage members from renewing their ID cards, if the change were to move forward.
The City Council must prevent the administration from adding this technology to IDNYC cards. At a time when vulnerable New Yorkers are under increased attacks, we must be especially vigilant to protect personal information.
Moving forward, the administration should do what it did five years ago and work with those who represent and serve New Yorkers most affected by these issues. There are progressive and safe ways to address banking disparities and expand access to fair, accountable and community-based financial services.
Exposing New Yorkers to unwarranted risks through a card they now rely on to keep them safe is not the answer.
Menchaca chairs the City Council’s Immigration Committee. Plum is vice president of policy at the New York Immigration Coalition. Aristizabal is co-director of organizing at Make The Road New York. Del Río is co-director of New Economy Project.