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.

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6 Responses

  1. I’d like to point out that, if you really want a forgery proof ID card, you wouldn’t put the biometrics on the card, you WOULD put them in the database. That’s basic. You don’t even NEED a card for foolproof ID, just biometrics in a database linked to SS numbers. Hand in the scanner, punch in your number, and the scanner verifies whether your biometrics match the number, while displaying your name and photo.

    Putting the biometrics on the card is just an invitation to forge the card.

  2. Ken says:

    Mr. Bellmore’s observation is completely correct.

    When I was in college 50 years ago, students had no trouble creating a false ID. The purpose was simpler (buying booze), the challenges were simpler, and the techniques were simpler, but I’ve seen nothing over the past half-century to make me believe that the government has made some huge technological advances that college students haven’t been able to keep pace with. And now, with the Internet for communication, any breakthrough by a couple of seniors at CalTech can be available on every campus in the country within about 15 minutes.

    So forgery, even high-tech forgery, just isn’t preventable, even when the stakes are really low, like under-age drinking.

  3. Ken says:

    Professor Citron quotes the ACLU’s legislative counsel Chris Calabrese: >>“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.”>>

    I question this statement by Calabrese, a spokesman for privacy whom I generally admire, and frequently agree with. This statement, OTOH, sounds to me more like a political speech than a reasoned argument. Here’s why I read it that way:

    (1) “Massive invasion of privacy.” C’mon, get serious here. Everybody who drives in every one of our 50 states is required to carry on his person a driver’s license which includes a photo ID and date-of-birth. Invasion of privacy? Hardly. Simply a way for a government authority (the cop) to ascertain, with a fair degree of confidence, who you are. Because of their universality, and their reasonable degree of confidence, we also use those government-issued ID’s for purposes having nothing to do with driving, like buying booze (if we look young, a problem I no longer have to face) or getting on an airplane.

    Not only that, but every one of our fifty states now offers a drivers-license-like ID card, as a substitute for “the real thing,” for those of its citizens who don’t drive, but nonetheless need an official-looking government-issued ID for those other functions. Many of our non-driving citizens avail themselves of this government ID as a way of identifying themselves when required to do so.

    “Massive invasion of privacy?” Making my ID more secure (not totally secure, but moreso than before) is an invasion of my privacy? Making it harder (not impossible, but more difficult than before) for somebody else to masquerade as me compromises my privacy? I don’t think so.

    (2) Fingerprinting citizens = treating them as criminals? Waitaminit!! My drivers license has a mug shot on it already. How does adding my fingerprint = treating me as a criminal? At least the fingerprint really would look like mine. Those DMV employees have special training in taking mug shots that make me look like a serial pedophile.

    Seriously, how in the world does using my fingerprint for an ID card equate to mistreating me. Heck, my laptop scans my fingerprint for a password. I consider that a terrific idea, making it much harder for my grandchildren (or anybody else) to compromise my password. A more accurate means of identification is not an attack on privacy, it’s a PROTECTION of privacy.

    (3) “A card that would quickly spread …[to] every aspect of American life that requires identification.”>>

    Aha! There’s the crux of the objection, and perversely, there’s the reason the objection is wrong.

    Calabrese is concerned about the spread of the usage. But look at the words: “every aspect of American life that requires identification.” Hey, those aspects ALREADY require identification. So now we use a mug shot, and what’s proposed is a fingerprint. Big deal!

    What the ACLU is really opposed to (I believe), with some reasonable concern, it that acquisition of this better means of identification uses “information” which will result in subsequent availability of that information to unauthorized persons. In other words, putting words in Calabrese’s mouth, “I don’t think the government is able to safeguard this any better than they’ve been able to safeguard any other information they’ve collected.”

    To see a position statement on that issue we can review Calabrese’s testimony on compromise of medical information:

    That, I believe, is a real concern, while this other stuff, I think, is political rhetoric; words chosen to appeal to folks who don’t parse the details of complex issues.

  4. Jens Müller says:

    “that would quickly spread from work to voting to travel to pretty much every aspect of American life that requires identification.”

    Travel requires ID? Only air travel, or also other modes of transportation?

  5. Having the National ID Card would be helpful and to others it can be a reason for them to forge the identity of a person. I think it cannot be easily to forge if there would be a serial or a thumb mark print.