Here we go again. Every few years the idea of mandating a national ID card with embedded biometric information comes to the front burner of the legislative stove, the privacy whiners have a fit, and the idea gets pushed back. Then our national budget and national psyche are drained some more by terrorist plots, immigration fraud, identify theft and other criminal activity, and the idea slides once again to the front.
According to the Wall Street Journal, this time it's front-and-center in the proposal to require an ID card for all workers, citizens and non-citizens alike, as part of a new immigration bill that's emerging in the U.S. Senate. Not surprisingly, the requisite privacy outcry has already begun:
The biggest objections to the biometric cards may come from privacy advocates, who fear they would become de facto national ID cards that enable the government to track citizens.
"It is fundamentally a massive invasion of people's privacy," said Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "We're not only talking about fingerprinting every American, treating ordinary Americans like criminals in order to work. We're also talking about a card that would quickly spread from work to voting to travel to pretty much every aspect of American life that requires identification."
It's a tired, senseless argument that relies on ignorance and fear to gain legitimacy.
First, it's shameful and insulting to suggest that fingerprinting is something to be associated with criminals. All men and women serving our country in the Armed Forces, most public servants, and many private employees in sensitive positions, are fingerprinted.
Second, what possible harm is there in having a national ID card that would ensure that every vote is cast by a properly identified person? When I voted in the last presidential election, no one even bothered to check my ID. I could have been anyone. It was ridiculous.
Third, why is a national ID card something to be feared with respect to travel? A valid government-issued ID has to be presented for airline travel as it is. Why is presenting a national ID with your biometric information more disturbing or loathsome than presenting a driver's license? Is the concern that you're giving the government the means to track your travel? Unless you've been traveling with fake identification, the government already has the means to do that. It's an infuriatingly nonsensical argument.
A long-time, outspoken advocate for a biometric national ID card is Scott McNealy, the former CEO of Sun Microsystems. I spoke with McNealy two months after the attacks on Sept, 11, 2001, and he expressed a degree of frustration about the public's seeming inability to comprehend the issue:
The problem with this particular issue is it's way more complicated than a classic, single, one-line zinger that I tend to throw out just to kind of tweak everybody. Like, "You have no privacy, get over it." I'm pretty famous for that one. But nobody understood the five paragraphs before it and the five paragraphs after it because the press doesn't have time and people don't have the attention span to really sit down and really understand. Anybody who understands my perspective on authentication says it's ultimately and fabulously logical.
If there were no audit trails and no fingerprints, there would be a lot more crime in this world. Audit trails deter lots of criminal activity. So all I'm suggesting, given that we all have ID cards anyhow, is to use the biometric and other forms of authentication that are way more powerful and way more accurate than the garbage we use today.
McNealy was right. We have the technology readily available to make a quantum leap in crime prevention, but it's as if there's a blockade in place that's prohibiting delivery to where it's needed most. The senseless hand-wringing in the name of privacy needs to end so the blockade can finally be lifted.