Present Your Papers


Bruce Schneier on the perennial proposal for a national identification card:

[M]y primary objection isn't the totalitarian potential of national IDs, nor the likelihood that they'll create a whole immense new class of social and economic dislocations. Nor is it the opportunities they will create for colossal boondoggles by government contractors. My objection to the national ID card, at least for the purposes of this essay, is much simpler:

It won't work. It won't make us more secure.

In fact, everything I've learned about security over the last 20 years tells me that once it is put in place, a national ID card program will actually make us less secure.

To see his argument, go here.

[Via bOING bOING.]

NEXT: The What-if Wars

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. One question I have about the proposed ID which nobody seems able to answer: would we be required to carry it *everywhere*? Legally, you are only required to take your driver’s license with you when you are driving, and as a practical matter you need it to buy booze, get into a nightclub, or any other age-specific activities. When I go for a walk I usually take no ID at all. Will that be illegal in the future, if the national ID takes root?

  2. If you’re innocent, you should want to carry a ID.

  3. DNA,thumbprints,retna scans,why don`t we all get our ssn tatooed to our tush at birth.Then all you gotta do is show your ass to the MAN.

  4. “show your ass to the MAN.”

    The Hydroman?

  5. There seems to be this idea going around that giving up freedom for more security is a good idea. Too many people have been sucking on the government tit for far to long. They look to the government to protect them, instead of being self-reliant.

    I know it?s clich?, but Orwell?s Oceania phrase ?slavery is freedom? sums up the thought processes of these types. They believe that by restricting the free movement of a population, they somehow keep them from wanton slaughter.

    The problem is that no matter how many laws are passed, I could be viciously murdered at any time. It?s just a fact of life. Banning guns wouldn?t help. There?d still be knives. Banning knives wouldn?t help ? there?d still be bare hands. You can?t ban intent, no matter how hard you try.

    Despite the risks of being murdered in the street any given day, I leave my house each day. I go to work, I go to the store, etc. Life is a risk. Banning me from doing anything at all just compounds the problem.

    I think national ID is a doomed concept, though. When organizations as opposite as the ACLU and the NRA join together in opposing something, you know it?s going to be an uphill battle for that issue.

  6. Dink———Da govmitt MAN!
    They want to know what you ass is doing 24/7.

  7. My ass is just sitting here.
    Nothing to see.
    Move along.

  8. “There is more security in alert guards paying attention to subtle social cues…”

    Unfortunately, “Civil Libertarians” have a track record of vigorously opposing any system that cannot be reduced to an explicit set of rules. Having a guard stop people because, “I thought he looked funny,” is anathema to them.

    We have two choices in creating a security system: a “hard” system based on something like universal IDs that seeks to nail down an individual’s identity and then trust them from then on or a “soft” system that continually re-evaluates individuals based on numerous sources of information including human intuition.

    Hard systems work by inclusion. They seek to put every person in the society into their matrix and to constantly remember them. Soft systems work by exclusion. They seek to push people out of the matrix and forget about them until they are left with only a tiny subset of people of interest. This dichotomy makes hard systems much more of long term threat to civil liberties than soft systems.

    However, if recent history is any guide most people view hard system as more fair, constitutional and less of a threat than soft systems. Government entities, like the IRS, will push for hard systems (like social security numbers) because it makes their jobs easier.

    It is looking like we will end up with a hard system by default.

  9. Implant an RFID chip in everyone. Yeah that’s the ticket!

    Or maybe a non-removable torc around everybody’s neck, with some electonics and a small amount of explosive to enforce the “non-removablility”.

  10. Having a guard stop people because, “I thought he looked funny,” is anathema to them.

    Not if there’s a system in place for punishing guards who are obviously abusing their power. It’s not as though our only options are inflexibility or unaccountability.

  11. I can’t say I like the idea of a National I.D. card either but isn’t it pretty much a moot point. We already have a defacto national ID card and it’s called our social security card.

  12. Could someone explain to me why all the fuss?
    We already have a National ID: the driver’s license/State ID, now complete with fingerprint “for your protection”. I don’t believe for one minute that State DMVs won’t share data with all sorts of agencies. Ashcroft stated it quite clearly today: Patriot tore down The Wall keeping departments fom sharing information.

  13. Stephen Fetchet:

    “a prohibition on retaining that information except in connection with a criminal investigation or other circumstances where verification of ID is a pressing state interest”

    Fair enough, and also fair enough to use ID to catch criminals.
    However, the crux is what is defined as a “pressing state interest”.
    Perhaps this serves to illustrate the point:

    “We can count on one hand Congress’ textual basis to define or punish crimes. Thus, “[t]he Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason [ ],” Art. III, ?3, the power to “define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high seas and Offenses against the Law of Nations,” Art. I, ?8 Cl. 10, and “[t]o provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States.” Art. I, ?8 Cl. 6. Today, however, the number of criminal statutes is almost inestimable.
    According to a report of the American Bar Association, there are over 3,300 federal crimes. Federalization of Federal Criminal Law, Appendix C. These laws are interspersed in 50 titles of the United States Code. Ronald L. Gainer, Federal Criminal Code Reform: Past and Future, 2 Buff. Crim. Law. Rev. 46 (1998). Also, the violation of federal regulations is often made criminal: the ABA estimates that the violation of at least 10,000 regulations is a federal crime. Federalization of Federal Criminal Law at 10.

    We used to be able to count on one hand when Congress could define or punish crimes. Now no one can know the extent of potential criminal liability under federal law.”

    Couple that with ever more creative interpretations of the laws and the purposes which they serve, it is easy to see why many are suspicious of a national ID.

    Get the full story here:

  14. Notice, I’m not proposing a national ID card. I’m proposing national standards for ID cards, that states could opt in or opt out of. If done through drivers’ licenses, I believe there is a pretty clear basis under the Commerce Clause (instrumentalities of commerce, roads, ships, airplanes) for the Fed to sponsor such an initiative; moreoso if it is encouraged through the spending clause.

    I’d also say that ensuring we are free from terrorist attack at a rudimentary level – air & seaport security for instance – is within the defense function generally and one of the few truly constitutional exercises of power.

  15. Hmmm. There’s an amazing lack of creativity in this debate. It’s as if the choice is to either go with some mondo national ID card with active RFID chip technology broadcasting our DNA code and dating history to every government employee within 100 miles, or we walk around with no ID and wear black bags over our heads.

    How ’bout a national standard, voluntarily adhered to by the states, to incorporate self-authenticating biometric data into driver’s licenses, coupled with a prohibition on retaining that information except in connection with a criminal investigation or other circumstances where verification of ID is a pressing state interest (incorporating companies, land transfers, stuff like that)? By biometric measurements, I’m referring to something as simple as fingerprints, that a machine reader could check, with reasonable accuracy, against the ID card.

    That would make it harder to forge ID, and if somebody was involved in some bad stuff, easier for law enforcement to run a nationwide check for warrants and criminal record. The prohibition on retaining the ID information – so long as the ID matched the bearer – would prevent the development of an Orwellian national database containing innocent people. It would enhance security, without really increasing the intrusion of the state into your privacy.

    That’s just an idea, but I think there are a lot of creative solutions to be had in this area – framing the debate as an all-or-nothing question is rather stupid, and civil libertarians are more likely to wind up with nothing, rather than a good solution that meets a variety of needs.

  16. The main problem is that none of these arguments will truly be considered by anyone with clout. In a congressional setting, the question that rises above all and pervades every debate is, “do we appear to be doing something/anything in the eyes of the electorate?”, and when push comes to shove, nothing else truly matters (Ron Paul excepted). When this becomes an issue, the appearance of action will be the deciding factor.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.