Modest Proposals: Retina Scans All Around

Reforming another short-sighted federal proposal


Once again politicians are proposing timid, half-way solutions when sweeping changes are in order. Creating a national computer database of all Americans to allow the government to monitor every employer's hiring decisions via modem clearly won't go far enough to stop the hordes of illegal aliens nightly stampeding across our borders.

Opponents of the database say the system will not work because illegal aliens could use fraudulent documents to get their names and fake Social Security numbers into the computer, which would make them appear eligible to work when an employer checks their names with the government. That's why Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) astutely inserted into Sen. Alan Simpson's (R -Wyo.) immigration bill a provision to create a "birth certificate of every person born in the United States [to be] verified as pertaining to a particular person at an age no older than 16…and [that] would be personalized by the addition of a fingerprint or other biometric data."

Feinstein wrote in Roll Call (May 22, 1995) that a national ID card or birth certificate should carry the bearer's "unique voice, retina pattern, or fingerprint digitally encoded." Here is where the Senate legislation doesn't go far enough. The term "biometric data" is so broad that it could include such things as sperm counts, which could replace retina scans as the preferred method of identification once lobbyists for certain industries, such as paper cup manufacturers, get their hands on the legislation. Retina scans clearly should be the identifier of choice.

Retina scans are ideal because they can be combined with the other outstanding reform idea in Congress this session: the V-chip. Under legislation sponsored by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), manufacturers would be required to insert the V-chip into every TV set sold in America. A ratings board, voluntarily mandated by Congress, would decide which programs deserve the "V" rating. The idea is to give a friendly helping hand not only to parents but to sociopaths who explicitly seek out violent programming but find the TV Guide description of shows often vague.

The combined Retina Scan/V-chip would work as follows: A government computer that includes people's retina scans would be linked with the V-chip technology. Congress would then require that the V-chip in the television be equipped with powerful retina-scan lasers that could shoot multiple rays across the room to zap the eyes of kids watching violent TV programs. The lasers must be capable of penetrating curtains, doors, and windows (in case the child attempts to peep into a neighbor's house to watch a violent show). The children would be stunned only temporarily—long enough, however, for adults to step in and prevent viewing. The stunning should help deter future viewing, with the severity of the laser to be set annually by Congress.

A critic might say that this is fine to protect children while they are in the United States, but what about while they are traveling abroad? While restricting foreign travel to those 18 or over may be a good idea, a simpler solution would be to use the threat of trade sanctions to force other countries to adopt the retina-scan-laser TV standard. Free trade has to be fair, and this would ensure that no American child would inadvertently see a violent image on TV while traveling in a foreign nation.

If trade embargoes against other countries did not convince them to use the lasers, this would be yet another argument against immigration—without the retina-scan technology in TV sets, immigrant children who had seen violent shows in their native lands would be able to describe them to American kids during recess.

To make the national computer database work, a national ID card that includes our "Social Security numbers and biometric data," as Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) has advocated, must involve all adults and not just children. Moreover, collecting fingerprints, scanning retinas, drawing blood, extracting sperm, and gathering urine from all Americans will not work if it is done in a random, haphazard manner. That is why it should be made part of every American's patriotic duty, like voting.

I propose we establish National Citizen Identification Day, to be held on election day in even-numbered years. On this day, parents could go with their children to be registered with the government and have the necessary bodily fluids extracted and the appropriate parts of their anatomy scanned. While the local polling station is the natural place, other sensible locations for swift and prompt service would be the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Post Office.

In lieu of election day, another national holiday could be selected, such as Christmas. The procedures would be popular politically and could even become part of our national culture, complete with their own seasonal songs: (Sing to the tune of "O Christmas Tree")

O Retina Scans, O Retina Scans

In Congress you have many fans.

O Retina Scans, O Retina Scans

You help us catch illegal aliens.

If Congress acts quickly on the Retina Scan/V-chip, which will solve our illegal immigration, TV violence, trade, and litter problems, it could be used in time for the fall TV season, when we might discover that one of the actors on that violent program Melrose Place is not even eligible to work in this country. Truthfully, I can't understand why anyone would oppose retina scans. After all, why should you be so concerned about the government keeping an eye on you and your retina? Did you get your eyes from another country?

Stuart Anderson is policy director of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution in Arlington, Va.