ID Cards: Still a Bad Idea
by Isaac Peterson
A New York state senator is bringing up a bad idea that has
been killed several times in the past and deserves another
stake through the heart once and for all.
Roy Goodman is a member of a special anti-terror committee
that was created after September 11. They came up with about
50 ideas to fight terrorism in this country, and the national
ID card was one of the ideas.
The subject has come up before, and hasn't been adopted.
In 1971, the Social Security Administration Task Force considered
turning social security cards into national ID cards. In 1973,
the Health and Human Services department decided not to push
for it, and so did the Federal Advisory Committee on False
Identification in 1976. The Carter, Reagan, and Clinton administrations
were not in favor of it, and to its credit so far, the present
Bush administration hasn't favored it either.
But some members of the House and Senate are fans of this
turkey of an idea. It's had the support of Dick Gephardt,
George Gekas (of Clinton impeachment fame), Mary Bono (Mrs.
I Got You Babe), and Dianne Feinstein. She has said the ID
should contain people's photographs, fingerprints and retina
scans. Other people want the cards to contain every bit of
information known about a person.
They may be interested in the ID's because of Larry Ellison,
the CEO and chairman of Oracle. He said "We need a national
ID card with our photograph and thumbprint digitized and embedded
in the ID card. We need a database behind that, so when you're
walking into an airport and you say that you are Larry Ellison,
you take that card and put it in a reader and you put your
thumb down and that system confirms that this is Larry Ellison.''
He even offered to provide the software at no charge.
Fine Larry, get one, but leave me out of it. Here's why:
- Centralized information
- Profiling, especially racial
- Potentially harsh penalties for failing to have one at
- A national ID would basically be a domestic passport
Right now, information about me, and every one of us, is
in lots of computers all over the country. Who knows how many?
If you you own a home, car, property, stocks or bonds, you're
in some computer database. If you have health coverage, a
job, 401K, or life or homeowners insurance, you're in some
computer database. If you've applied for credit, have credit,
ever been sued, or ever been arrested, you are in some computer
database somewhere. And guess what? If the FBI doesn't have
a file on you, but you write and ask them if you do, they
will be more than happy to start one on you. There is just
no way to know how many computers already have information
about you and me.
Now, if we had national ID cards, a lot of that information
scattered all over creation and beyond will be in a central
database. The plans I've heard floated call for the little
magnetic strips (like the ones on credit cards, and in some
states like Minnesota), to hold an awful lot of information
about you. And all that info would be kept in one place. I
have to wonder if there would be any provision to find out
just what information is on the card we would be forced to
And, with all the other garbage that's been tossed around
that's "for our own good" since 9/11, I have to wonder about
this one these are a lot of the same people who holler
about the government having no business in our lives. And
they've been the first ones who've come up with all those
great ideas we hear about that tell me they don't care about
us or the Constitution. All that information in one place...this
isn't about making anything easier or safer for us, it's about
making it easier for them.
Would we have the right to know exactly what information
about us would be on the cards, and whether the information
is correct? How would we know? We probably wouldn't be able
to find out. But if we could find out, would we have the right
to demand that incorrect information gets changed? And in
a system that would have to be networked to the extent this
one would have to be, my money has to go on things getting
screwed up. Think about it how many new bureaucrats
would we need? Who would oversee and coordinate what all these
people are doing? What quality control would there be? Some
people want these cards to eventually take the place of Social
Security cards, ATM and debit cards, you name it. How we get
there without massive screwups?
If it doesn't sound like all that big a deal, think about
this: right now when your credit card is lost or stolen, you
have to go through loads of crap to get it replaced. Same
with other cards we use all the time. But if we lose a national
ID, think of all the kinds of fresh hell we could be looking
at, with all the information on that card, and we really wouldn't
even know what all the information on the card was. Think
of the times you've read about hackers breaking into computers,
even government and military ones, and I hope I don't have
to press my point too hard. My point is that these could take
identity theft to the next level.
And some countries that already have them report that a small
percentage of employees with access to the database have been
caught selling information on cardholders. So we would need
to figure out some way to build safeguards against that in
Racial profiling would move from an art to a science. The
guy in New York proposing the cards said national ID cards
"would eliminate all racial profiling". He didn't say how.
He was possibly too high from whatever he had been smoking
to explain that one.
"Well, Isaac, howcum you don't think ID cards would end racial
Well, to a lot of us, law enforcement hasn't exactly been
Officer Friendly. A routine traffic stop for minorities is
a different routine than most of you are used to. I've had
my car impounded for not having my driver's license with me.
And I had an officer torment me because on another occasion
he would not believe that my ID was a real, state issued ID.
(I wasn't doing anything illegal or wrong either time. Except
if you count being a black guy. And I've had other arbitrary
run-ins.) If we had national ID's, we'd probably have the
same requirement as now, that we need them in our possession
all the time. I don't have any trouble believing the penalty
for not having it would be worse than what the state can do
right now. In countries that already have national ID's, the
police have the authority to detain someone for 24 hours.
I don't have any trouble believing that some in law enforcement
would ask for the card hoping someone had left home without
it. These cards would make it easier to discriminate.
What I just talked about was the local Barney Fife variety
cops. I don't even want to think about Feds.
And since the cards would hold records of where you've been,
police would have plenty of incentive to demand a card, hoping
to find something in your record you've done somewhere else.
I can see how these cards could open up all kinds of fishing
expeditions, looking for some reason to make someone's life
just a little bit less fun than it already is. So no, I don't
see how national ID cards would end racial profiling.
The people who want these things say they would be a tool
to fight terrorism, but I have my doubts about that, too.
These cards would supposedly be impossible to fake, but if
our government can make them, how long do you think it would
be before someone who could spend the kind of money that Saddam
Hussein or Osama bin Laden could find out how to make them?
When Australia issued theirs, it was only 2 months before
the first forgery was found.
And the last thing is that the cards would be, in some ways,
a domestic passport. It would be a record of where you've
been that you've had to produce the card, and that would give
the Federal government a way to track where we've been, terrorist
or not. And don't forget, the government is the one who gets
to decide whether you're a terrorist or not.
Tom Campbell, who used to be a Representative from California
said "I strongly oppose a national ID card. If you have an
ID card, it is solely for the purpose of allowing the government
to compel you to produce it. This would essentially give to
the government the power to demand that we show our papers.
It is a very dangerous thing. The card could be used by police
to track travel movements or to single out people with unpopular
views or certain ethnic backgrounds for surveillance". You
can tell me I'm paranoid, and I'll tell you there are too
many people working too many hours of overtime to give me
reasons to feel that way. Since 9/11, too much of what is
coming from the top has not a thing to do with catching terrorists
or keeping us safe, despite what they're telling us. Military
tribunals, USA PATRIOT Bill, expanded police powers, expanding
wiretaps, searching homes and computer hard drives without
warrants or notification, all the ideas that are law or that
are still just being talked about are making us a police state.
And most of this stuff Ashcroft wanted to do before September
anyway. You can tell me I'm an alarmist, and I'll just tell
you why I'm alarmed.
So, to put all of the above another way:
- The idea smells worse than a bucket of catfish out in
the sun all day at a Willie Nelson concert.
- For fighting terrorism, national ID cards would be as
useful as a football bat.
These cards would be the latest tool for invading our privacy
and having the government in our lives. Our government would
go from Big Brother to Big Daddy.