National Identity

May 2005


For years government officials and civil rights groups have been fighting over the issue of having, or not having, a national ID card for everyone in the United States. An appropriations bill that includes a provision for a national ID card will probably be signed this Summer. What does this mean to you and me?

The defense appropriations bill, recently passed by the Congress and on its way through the Republican dominated Senate to President George W. Bush's desk for his signature, includes a provision that would create the nation's first National Identification Card. Civil libertarians have been fighting this for years.

The likely result of the passage of this legislation will be that you will be required to get an ID card and to keep it with you. You will be required to show your card to:

In addition, there will be many different times when you will need to provide the number from your card, much in the way that you currently are asked to provide your social security number. So What?

Your social security card is a piece of paper. This new ID card will be an electronic card that will carry a significant amount of information about you, and will provide it to anyone who scans the card. Your bank will be able to tell where you have traveled by plane, when you apply for a loan. When you apply for a job, your prospective employer will be able to find out much more about you than you may want them to know. And what if something gets entered into your card that is an error? Millions of innocent people are victimized every year already because of faulty information in credit reports or background checks.

And there is the whole notion of presumption of innocence. According to our Constitution, unless you have been convicted of an actual crime by a jury of your peers, you are presumed to be innocent of a crime. What right does our government have to keep tabs on us to this degree, when they are obliged to consider us innocent of any crime? Of course the answer comes back: because there are terrorists. Very convenient. Reducing the threat of terrorism does not justify the government treating all its citizens as potential terrorists. Among those least at risk from terrorist attacks are people serving time in federal prisons. If you really want to be safe from terrorism, just go rob a bank.

There are plenty of things that our government could do to lessen our risk of terrorist attacks. Prominent among these is to stop acting like the world's only and best 800 pound gorilla, and start acting like one of the members of the community of nations of planet Earth. There are certain advantages, materially, from being a global empire in everything but name, but there is a downside, too. Terrorism is one of the inevitable consequences. If we allow our government to so slowly but surely encapsulate us all in a police state ala 1984, for our own protection, then we have traded our liberty for a nonexistent daydream.

This national ID card is an unnecessary and expensive piece of legislation that we neither need nor can we afford. In a time when our state legislators are having to make serious cuts in the educational programs for our children, we should oppose legislation that would require our state to reissue everybody's driver's license, with a much more expensive ID card, because it doesn't meet federal standards. Having a national ID card will not make it harder to fake identification, it will make fake ID more expensive, which will not mean that terrorists cannot afford to pay for fake ID. This is obviously ineffective for stopping terrorists.

What this legislation really means is that the government will finally be able to keep tabs on ordinary citizens who have done nothing wrong. It will also stand as a litmus test for additional legislation that will further curb our liberties and abridge our freedoms. That liberty and those freedoms were won by the blood and struggle of our ancestors. We owe it to those brave men and women to fight this evil totalitarian measure, and all others like it.

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