Republican Foot Dragging Slows Drive To Stop National ID

By Tom DeWeese

Does the Republican-led House of Representatives want to stop the implementation of a “Big Brother” national identification system – or not? If ever there was an issue that Republicans could rally around, this should be it.

Republican principles advocate limited government intrusion into the lives of the American people. Republican candidates campaign on the ideas of restraining Big Brother. Republicans have been given a majority in the U.S. Congress because the American people want some control over the massive power of the federal government.

Americans loudly expressed their opposition to the proposed federal banking regulations, called “Know Your Customer,” that would have established massive federal data bank profiles on every bank customer. More than 150,000 Americans protested the idea to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). So huge was the outcry that the FDIC started retreating from the issue almost from the day the scheme was announced. In fact, nearly every effort to implement a national Identification system has been met with massive opposition.

Americans have made it abundantly clear that they do not want a federal card that they will be required to carry in order to get on an airplane, open a bank account, acquire medical services or buy a gun. Americans do not want to be checked, stamped, or authorized by nameless, non-elected, faceless federal bureaucrats. Free societies don’t tolerate such centralized supervision – these are the tools of totalitarian dictators.

Once a national ID system is in place, there are plans to expand it to include computer chips containing medical, school, employment and tax records. These chips will allow the card to be used as your source of money, replacing credit cards and ATM cards. With it you will purchase all goods and services in a cashless society. Without it, you will be shut out of society.

But before Americans embrace such technical wizardry, they had better ask one important question: who will be running the computers that contain all of this life-giving information? Answer: non-elected, unresponsive government bureaucrats. It has been estimated that nearly thirty percent of all information already stored in government data banks is incorrect. Anyone who has tried to purchase a home recently is aware of the nightmare involved in cleaning up errors on a credit record. Imagine what would happen if incorrect information kept you from getting a job or from purchasing groceries with your one-stop, government-approved national ID card?

What if an error in your personal file indicated you were wanted by the police? How would you get the data corrected? If you like dealing with the IRS, you’ll love the national ID system.

There are always reasonable-sounding arguments for surrendering liberty for security. It is true that illegal aliens are a serious problem in this country. Something must be done before we are overrun. Deadbeat dads must be brought to justice – or we all pay for their free ride and lack of responsibility. There is even a reasonable argument by those who advocate putting computer chips under the skin of children. That way, if a child is abducted or runs away, he or she can be located and returned.

But putting all Americans under Big Brother’s surveillance to catch a few law breakers is opening the door to tyranny. Personal information in the hands of a stranger is a perfect setting for fraud and corruption. There is no way to control it.

One of the greatest protections Americans have always had against invasive government power is the government’s inability to keep track of our every movement. Give the federal government that ability and liberty simply cannot survive in this nation.

Beyond the moral objections to a national ID, there is the legal question. The regulations specified under Section 656b violate every notion of federalism, because they force states to comply with regulations issued by the federal government, without Constitutional authority to do so. Nor are state agencies empowered to gather detailed information on every person in order to comply with federal mandates.

That’s why the fight to stop a national ID card is a ready-made crusade for anyone advocating individual liberty and limited government. So where is the Republican-led drive to cast the National ID devil from the backs of the American people? Where is the Republican leadership? Playing intra-party politics, as usual.

Congressman Ron Paul of Texas has introduced a package of bills he calls the “Privacy Package.” This group of four bills would prohibit the federal government from creating a national ID by repealing offending sections of laws passed in 1996. Also, the bills would prohibit any implementation of the FDIC’s “Know Your Customer” profiling data banks. In addition, Paul’s bills would allow bank customers to see their own files and correct inaccurate or false information – and repeal the badly worded banking law that gives the federal government the right to monitor private bank accounts.

But Capitol Hill sources have told the Insider’s Report that new House Speaker Dennis Hastert is “reluctant” to support Paul’s bills. Why? Because to do so would expose an intra-party fight over the National ID concept. Apparently it is more important to Speaker Hastert to keep peace in the Republican family than to protect the liberties of the American people.

The fight stems from the fact that the offending legislation Paul is trying to repeal was authored by fellow Texas Republican Lamar Smith. He authored Section 656b of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996. That same year, Section 656b was also added to the Welfare Reform Act. It is Section 656b that requires the Department of Transportation to work with state motor vehicle departments to create state driver’s licenses to conform to specific federal guidelines in order for the licenses to be used as a nation identification card. Specifically, Section 656b requires the use of the Social Security number to be a “unique numeric identifier.”

The rule mandated that states have the new system in place by October 1, 2000. That meant that states had to set up an electronic verification system for the applicant’s Social Security Number – prior to issuing a driver’s license. It mandated what documents states could accept from applicants for identification purposes in order to get the new driver’s licenses. Proposed security features were also listed, including digitized fingerprints, digital photographs and voice recognition files – many of which are not used or are currently prohibited by the states. If states did not produce driver’s licenses in compliance with these rules – citizens of those states would not be able to use their driver’s license as identification to obtain federal services, open a bank account, buy a gun, obtain a job or even get on an airplane. Smith is convinced that the ID regulations are necessary to stop illegal immigrants from obtaining welfare payments and to assure responsibility from “deadbeat dads.”

In September. 1999, at the end of the 105th Congress, Representative Paul and Representative Bob Barr offered a bill to defund the implementation of the 656b regulations. But that effort was thwarted by Congressman Smith when he pressured Paul and Barr to drop their efforts. Barr agreed, instead joining Paul in a new amendment that simply delayed implementation for a year.

It was a minor victory against the National ID. But this year, Paul has determined to take an even stronger approach by issuing H.R. 220 – “The Freedom and Privacy Restoration Act of 1999” – to fully repeal Section 656b, along with three additional bills that make up the “Privacy Package.”

But once again, Congressman Smith has stepped in the way of killing the National ID scheme. Again Smith objects to Paul’s bill, saying it is necessary that all Americans be equipped with a federal identification card in order to stop the illegal activities of some.

Unfortunately, Speaker Hastert looks at the whole debate as a threat to “Republican unity.” According to Capitol Hill sources, Hastert’s office has told Congressmen Paul and Smith to “work it out.” If the division continues, then Paul’s bill will get no support from the Speaker’s office. Without Hastert’s support, Paul’s bill will die without a hearing.

Once again, here is a chance for Republicans to claim the high ground and to grab hold of an issue that has proven to be important to the average American. In fact, opposition to the national ID actually crosses ideological boundaries as many liberal organizations have joined forces with conservatives in several privacy battles across the nation. Even the news media gives favorable coverage to the issue.

But, it seems Republicans will do almost anything to assure defeat. The implementation of a national identification system is not a debatable subject. It’s our liberties that Hastert is ignoring. Party unity is no excuse to do the wrong thing. Congressman Smith has taken a very non-Republican, Big Brother position on the issue of the national ID. It is time for Speaker Hastert to exercise leadership and support Congressman Paul’s bill to repeal it. It’s time for Republican leaders in Congress to think of the American people and the Constitution instead of their petty infights.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.