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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The question of American national identity, and a national identification card 

Ezra Klein supports a national ID card, at least in part because complicated proof of citizenship requirements are a barrier to poor people trying to get social services.

Judging from the comments over at Ezra's blog, support and opposition for a national identification card, much like the controversy over immigration reform, do not fall neatly into the usual political categories. I myself admit to some ambivalence over whether we should have a national ID card. However, I also believe that the question is really a bureaucratic one of the second order, a mere enforcement mechanism. The real questions, it seems to me, are these:
1. Should you be required to produce your ID simply because a cop asks you to? Are we going to outlaw anonymity in the last anonymous public place, the street?

2. What should be the privileges of citizens, versus non-citizens, in addition to voting and unfettered travel across our borders?

In considering these questions, don't tell us what the law is. Tell us what it ought to be. And then tell us whether you support a national identification card.

11 Comments:

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Wed Apr 12, 08:47:00 AM:

ID cards are so 20th Century. If we go down this road it will likely be an RFID implanted chip than can be read electronically from a distance (like EZ PASS).  

By Blogger Georg Felis, at Wed Apr 12, 02:16:00 PM:

What I want in a Kansas Drivers Licence.
1. Reasonably protected from counterfeiting (OK so far)
2. No social security number (Kansas is good on that too)
3. Biometric ID, such as a right or left thumb or index print
4. Proof of citizenship needed before issuing card, OR card identifies user as a non-citizen with an expiration date that matches their visa expiration date. Same for renewals.

This gives you a positive means of identification, period.

What I really need though, is a Visa card with a photograph.  

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Wed Apr 12, 02:23:00 PM:

You can get that at Citibank.  

By Blogger Ezra, at Wed Apr 12, 02:35:00 PM:

I think these are good questions, but I don't think they really touch on whether we should have federal or state ID cards. Whatever the services and whatever the police regulations, the question is should we have a standardized, federalized identification card/database or a system of fractured, incompatible state ones.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Wed Apr 12, 05:54:00 PM:

Good questions. Still, I think of national IDs as a general efficiency issue...not necessarily related to immigration. And I'd support the initiative if, over the course of my lifetime, it would save me even one trip to the DMV.  

By Blogger rickl, at Wed Apr 12, 09:15:00 PM:

I'm opposed to a national ID card. Perhaps it's knee-jerk libertarianism on my part (I plead guilty), but it just seems un-American. A police officer saying "Show me your papers, please" is just so much more a European mindset.

From the arguments I've read, the real fear is that a national ID card (or implant) could well become an "authorization" card. This is especially true as we move towards a cashless society. If the time comes when we need our card to transact business of any kind, then the government would wield tremendous power over us. They could "revoke" our card as a punishment, and we would be unable to buy or sell anything.

"Punishment", of course, would be up to the government to define. Who can predict what that would be in the future? Our card could be revoked for rape, murder, and terrorism, or maybe for posting on the wrong blogs, or failing to applaud Madame President's latest speech.  

By Blogger Johnny Nobody, at Wed Apr 12, 09:16:00 PM:

If a police officer can ask you to produce your ID card at any time, and can cite/arrest you for not being able to do so, that amounts to a presumption of guilt, in my opinion. Once an officer determines you have committed a crime, that might be interpreted as probable cause for a search of your person, and any evidence then discovered could be used in court.

"What made you think the defendant was carrying a concealed weapon?"

"He didn't have his ID card."

Don't get me started about the central repository for personal information this would create. The card would be tied to your address, SSN, thumbprint/retinal scan/DNA, rental record, credit history, etc. Single database = single point of failure as far as identity theft goes. The government has proven itself completely technologically inept since the Web was created.  

By Blogger radar, at Thu Apr 13, 04:14:00 AM:

I'm sorry, but can you explain to me why you should fear having an ID card? If you are a citizen and have been issued a card, so what? The only people who would fear such a situation are those who are not citizens and have no documentation that allows them to live in this country. What is the problem?

We have a constitution that prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. As such, a police officer has no right to ask you for ID unless he has a reasonable purpose, IE you have probably broken a law or have exhibited suspicious behavior. Don't we want the police to check out suspicious behavior? And if we are citiznes, should we be worried about being asked to prove it?

Just asking...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Apr 13, 10:04:00 AM:

We dont need a national ID card what we realy need is a IQ test and honesty tests for all politicians and see if their IQs are higher then that of a ant  

By Blogger Georg Felis, at Thu Apr 13, 10:47:00 AM:

I also believe we do not need a National ID card. We live in a Federalist union of individual States, where each State has the authority to issue drivers licenses (or non-drivers license IDs, like a non-driving friend of mine had) according to their own laws, with the other 49 states generally allowing crossover. So in the unlikely event if I were to go to Hawaii, I could use my Kansas license for identification and to drive. There are federal laws and regulations that restrict and control most aspects of your license/ID, so in the event the Real-ID law is passed, all states would have to abide by it or lose Federal Highway Funds.

In the Real World we live in, you can bet that if Nebraska started giving easy to forge licenses to anybody with a pulse, and Kansas required proof of citizenship, a fingerprint, and anti-forgery devices in the license, there would be consequences. Nebraska merchants might begin to require two forms of ID to cash a check, Kansas police might start running a check on anybody with a Nebraska license (and no “Go Big Red” bumper sticker) they stop.

I can see it now. “May I see your license sir. Very good, now can I see some form of identification…”  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Apr 13, 04:40:00 PM:

uh... we already have VERRRRY scary "central repositories of personal information" in the form of credit beureaus, banking institutions, and other organizations with none of the transparency to scrutiny - or incentive to fairness - that a government agency would be subject to.

These non-governmental organizations already have such power and reach that I - an American living over a decade overseas - still must request and check my credit reports regularly, simply because of all the public domain info that is already available on me (including my SS number), and any false reports will impact my ability to conduct business ANYWHERE in the civilized world.

Could stateside Americans please get over their romantic - and simplistic - notions that an ID card represents some threat to individual liberty greater than the current free-for-all of personal information?

A national ID card is a basic security step in this modern age of cheap international transportation. And as the posters demanding hi-tech safeguards inadvertently point out, an ID card is hardly a match for those really intent on falsification - it would be just one basic barrier to illegal presence in the country.

There is sufficient legal structure in place to protect citizens from illegal search and arrest based solely on the lack of an ID card - just as there is sufficient deterrence now for illegal arrrests based on racial profiling or other unconstitutional "hunches" by police.

On the other hand, the lack of an ID card when taken together with real evidence of illegal activity may very well be portrayed as evidence of guilt or intent - as well it should be: you are always free to plead the Fifth in court, but the jury is also free to draw its own conclusions from your silence.  

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