National ID Card: Here We Go Again
As CNET reports, Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham recently proposed a new identity card for workers in an immigration reform bill. Their proposal would require all U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who want jobs to obtain a “high-tech, fraud-proof Social Security card” with a unique biometric identifier. Regional Social Security offices would have to issue cards with embedded biometric markers. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the biometric data would likely be either fingerprints or a scan of the veins in the top of the hand.” All workers, including teenagers, would be phased in with current workers needing to obtain the card only when they next changed jobs. The Senators insist that a person’s biometric identifier would be stored in the card, not centralized databases, and the cards would not contain tracking devices or personal information. In their view, the identification cards would “ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs” and “dramatically decrease illegal immigration.” Senator Graham has lauded the proposed card as a “tamper proof” Social Security number. In a statement, the White House has said that the Senators’ plan was “promising.”
What are the potential problems with such cards? Implementation would certainly be time-consuming and expensive. Apparently, employers would have to spend over $700 to buy ID scanners (Senator Schumer explained that small employers might be able to send their employees to government offices to have their hands scanned). Although those expenses could be offset by savings in government services if illegal immigration drops, there are other important costs. The proposed card might just end up being the card to exploit. As it stands, identity theft is so easy to perpetrate because we unwisely rely on Social Security numbers as a key verification tool. This card would further entrench this problem. As Eugene Volokh has powerfully invoked in other contexts, the slippery slope problem seems pressing. As the ACLU’s legislative counsel Chris Calabrese warned: “It is fundamentally a massive invasion of people’s privacy. 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.” Privacy and other concerns killed earlier incarnations of this sort of proposal: should they do so again?
Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the image.