The Growing National ID Trap

November 13, 2006

By Tom DeWeese

Technology can be a wonderful thing. From our garage door opening automatically on a rainy day to being able to find a lost pet, to quickly paying for an item by slapping a card over a “Pay Pass” reader, technology can make our lives better, more organized and safer.

There is no question that is would be a marvelous use of technology to be able to carry a copy of all your medical records, in case you fall ill or get hurt. Then the hospital will know all about your health condition including allergies, surgeries, dental problems and medications.

It would be a matter of comfort for parents to know that, if their child was kidnapped or wandered off, a chip could be activated to pinpoint where they are. The same is true in locating a lost pet.

It would be helpful for police and fire departments to have instant access to fingerprints and other personal identifying features of every single American. Then they really could solve cases in about an hour, just like on CSI.

Those are the wonderful visions promoters of the technology are using to sell their wares. The reality may create a world of Big-Brother controls on our ability to move about and live our lives in a free manner. For that reason, today in the age of such marvelous technology, Americans must be more vigilant and protective of their freedom than any time in our history.

As technology develops, data banks of personal information are being collected on everything from medical records, to financial and employment histories, to school records, to buying habits at the super market. The government is building data banks on farm animals. Our cars have little black boxes, which record data on our driving habits. In addition, the uses of video cameras, computer chips and biometric screening to monitor our activities are growing rapidly.

Step by step, using a wide variety of good excuses, Americans are allowing themselves to be fingerprinted, their eyes scanned, computer chips inserted under their skin, providing DNA, and more.

The most important question one must ask before relying completely on available technology is “who’s in control of it?” We can create technology to do literally anything. But should we? The question is important because some of the same technology that will make our lives better can, in the wrong hands, make our lives a living hell.

A short history

In 1996, Congress passed three major bills; The Welfare Reform Act, The Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and the Medical Care Reform Act. Unknown to most in Congress, each of these bills carried certain identical language called Section 656, which laid the foundation for the creation of a National ID. The laws set a deadline of October, 2000.

In 1998, privacy advocates, including The American Policy Center, began to sound the alarm. In 1999, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) quietly introduced legislation to rescind Section 656 and effectively kill the National ID.

All of that effort was lost on September 11, 2001. Since then, the government has been energized to action. Not since Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” have the forces of Big Brother been so determined to build the size and power of government.

First came the new Homeland Security Department with 170,000 employees from 22 combined departments, including the U.S. Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Secret Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Transportation Security Administration, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Customs Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Federal Protective Service, FBI’s National Domestic Preparedness Office, Office of Domestic Preparedness, Federal Computer Incident Response Center, plus several lesser agencies of the same type. All of these agencies come under the control of one manager, the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Under the rashly conceived Patriot Act, that one Cabinet Secretary has the power to send federal law enforcement into private homes without a search warrant. Records and materials may be taken from private homes, computer records searched, phones tapped, and e-mails monitored, without the knowledge of the suspect.

As part of the Homeland Security effort, but not part of the Patriot Act, is a new Pentagon program called the Information Awareness Office. It may use military intelligence to spy on domestic citizens. This one program seeks to combine government and business data banks to monitor American’s cash withdrawals from banks, airline ticket purchasing, rental car transactions and purchase of firearms. In addition, it monitors credit card purchases, books purchased, every movie rented or bought, almost ever action undertaken by private American citizens.

Creation of the National ID

In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act, a “counter-terrorism” measure recommended by the 9/11 commission. The act sets national standards for driver’s licenses. The bill requires states to link databases containing sensitive personal information such as Social Security numbers. State databases must contain a digital image and a paper copy of each birth certificate and other identifying documents.

Although issued by the states, through the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Real ID is a national identification card system. States must comply with federal guidelines by May, 2008. If states fail to meet that deadline, then driver’s licenses from non-complying states will not qualify as official identification and so cannot be used to get on airplanes or obtain services from the federal government, including medical care.

Without authorized federal identification, access to voting booths may be denied. Many states now use computerized voting machines. In those states, a voter’s name is now issued a bar code and permanent identification numbers on registration lists. Unless everything matches up, one can’t be allowed in the voting booth.

As the Real ID Act is fully implemented, the driver’s license will be essential for one to be a full participant in American society. Failure to have it will literally shut one out from opening a bank account, getting a loan, gaining employment, marriage license medical care and purchase of firearms.

Yet, the government continues to deny that the Real ID Act is a National ID. Proponents argue that no national data bank will be established, that it will only use the records created by the state Departments of Motor Vehicles. At a minimum, states must include on their new driver’s license name, birth date, sex, ID number, a digital photo and employ “machine readable technology.” Therein lies the danger.

Under the Act, Homeland Security can mandate additional requirements, including biometric scans such as finger printing, retinal scans, or facial scans. Homeland Security has expressed a strong desire to require Radio Frequency Identification chips (RFID).

Eventually, through the use of smart chips, the driver’s license will be transformed to include not only identification information, but employment, medical, financial and school records. It will serve as an ATM card, credit card, voter ID card, and, in the coming cashless society, access to your bank accounts.

All that is needed to combine such information in a wide variety of data banks now being created, both government and private, is the creation of one central identifying number. In anticipation of such an eventuality, the federal government, through the Pentagon is developing technology called “LifeLog” that would twist all of the information in public and private databanks into “narrative threads” giving government a chance to watch events of your life develop.

Once this is accomplished, consider the consequences. You’re driving in your car. Suddenly you are pulled over for a broken taillight. The officer asks for your driver’s license. You comply and he takes the card back to his cruiser, which has an onboard computer with access to the central data bank.

Suddenly, he gets out of the cruiser, pulls his gun and, hiding behind his car door, demands that you step out of your car with your hands up. What in the world could be wrong? In terror you comply. He steps up to you, holding the gun to your head and demands you lie on the ground as he puts on the cuffs and take you into custody.

At the station, you learn that there is an arrest warrant on your personal databank. It’s not you. How do you prove it? The data bank contains your picture, your fingerprints, your DNA. The official record says it’s you. You now have lost access to your bank accounts. You have lost access to your identification, indeed your identity.

What happened? Perhaps an over-worked, underpaid data entry person put the wrong information into the system. Where is that person? Who do you see to fix it? Government is a massive place. Little departments are scattered everywhere. Imagine what it now takes to get a mistake taken off your credit report, and then imagine it 1,000 times worse.

The backers of such a system tell us that it will never be abused. It will exist solely to protect us. It will keep us safe form terrorists. Fingerprints and biometric scans will make it impossible to counterfeit, they assure us.

Not so. Here are the facts: The Frauhofer Research Institute In Darmstadt, Germany, set out to see whether it could fool fingerprint, facial recognition and retinal scan security technology. Starting with facial recognition, they could fool it by holding up a photo of the authorized person. Further, since the system must store the photos of authorized persons in a database, hackers can break into the computer and steal them. Some systems are more sophisticated and watch to see if the person moves before allowing access. To beat it, simply put a video in from of the scanner.

Fingerprints are even easier to foil. When you put your finger on the reader you actually leave your fingerprint. Investigators found that often they could simply cup their hands around the reader and breathe on the old print, whereupon it would show up and let them in. And retinal scans; simply a high-resolution picture did the trick.

Americans are being fingerprinted at work and school and even Disney World on a routine basis. It goes into a database. Nearly every single super market issues a discount card where shoppers can get incredible discounts off their bill, just by using the card. But to do so, establishes a data bank of your buying habits. Every credit card tracks where you purchase and establishes as database. Every bank profiles your finances and establishes a database. Should you acquire a sudden spike in your usual banking routine, the banks are required to notify the federal government, because you have broken your profile.

Manufactures are implanting radio frequency identification tags (RFID) into everything from clothing to razor blades before shipping to stores. They can now track where each item is after it’s sold and in your home. They can even track the items as you travel with them.

A National ID will not protect us from anything. It will not prevent future terrorist attacks. The 9/11 terrorists were not using false ID. Osama bin Laden will not be stopped by “paperwork.” American freedom, however, will die.

Tom DeWeese
[email protected]

Tom DeWeese is President of the American Policy Center and National Grassroots Coordinator for CFACT (Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow) working to help local activists organize into Freedom Pods ( He is also the author of three books, including Now Tell Me I Was Wrong, ERASE, and Sustainable: the WAR on Free Enterprise, Private Property, and Individuals.