ID Cards and Databanks are Not the Solution

January 18, 2008

By Tom DeWeese

In this age of terrorism and out-of-control illegal immigration, it is a growing belief by many Americans that we must all be regulated, restricted, licensed, registered, directed, checked, inspected, measured, numbered, counted, stamped, authorized, fined, harassed, disarmed, exploited and taxed in the name of protection. Trouble is, that outlook is just plain wrong and it isn’t freedom.

According to a report from the London-based Privacy International, “privacy is being extinguished in country after country.” The report also noted that privacy was improving in the former communist states of eastern Europe, but it is worsening across Western Europe and the United States. According to the report, of forty seven countries surveyed, Malaysia, Russia and communist China ranked worst, but Great Britain and the United States also fell into the lowest-performing group of “endemic surveillance societies.”

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. As more and more legislation is offered as solutions to illegal immigration, we must also ask “where are the guarantees to legal Americans that there is identity protection?”

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. The law orders states to comply with federal guidelines by May, 2008.

In a news conference last week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced that states who can’t comply by the May deadline will have to request a waiver indicating they want more time to comply with the legislation. If the state fails to seek the waiver, then, Chertoff warned, that millions of residents in those states will be unable to use their drivers licenses to board airplanes. It may affect their ability to get medical care or other government services.

Secretary Chertoff also indicated that the Real ID card would be used for a wide variety of purposes, unrelated to the law that authorized the system, including employment verification. He said his agency would not prevent the use of the ID card by private parties for non-government purposes. That means banks, employers, services of any kind, stores, schools – every aspect of our society would be free to demand the card as identification. How is this not a National ID card?

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 is 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.

And yet, as the data banks grow with information from 245 million license and ID card holders, Chertoff announced that, to save money, DHS will not encrypt the data that will be stored on the card. So there is no protection of that information.

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 from 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 front 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 just by using the card. But to do so, establishes a data bank of your buying habits. Every credit card tracks where you purchase, establishing a database. Every bank profiles your finances, establishing 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.

Under the Real ID system, the burden is put squarely on legal, law abiding citizens in order to punish those who have broken our laws. Is that justice? Is that truly how we want our nation to operate? It’s certainly not freedom.

These are the reasons why 17 states have passed legislation or resolutions opposing compliance to the Real ID Act and Congress is debating its repeal. It’s why civil liberties and privacy organizations and security experts are working to stop its implementation.

But, say those who advocate such policy, we have no alternative. How else can we stop the invasion of illegals? How can we protect ourselves from terrorism?

Here are some actions that require no data banks and maintain freedom:

    • A serious deployment of the National Guard along the border.
    • Build the wall – not a virtual wall but a real one. Congress already approved it. Make it so.
    • Encourage and support, not intimidate and prosecute Border Patrol Agents.
    • Detain interdicted illegals until their court appearances and then immediately deport them, so we don’t have over 600,000 disappearing while awaiting trial.
    • Deny all but true emergency benefits and services to illegals.
    • Prosecute sanctuary cities.
    • Stop granting citizenship to the new borns of illegals. Federal law prohibits a criminal from benefiting from the fruits of their crime.
    • Driver’s licenses should not be issued to those who don’t show proof of citizenship. No data bank is necessary for this. Americans have been doing it for years. This puts the burden on the illegals – not legal Americans.
    • For those entering the country on a visa and applying for a driver’s license, make the license expiration date correspond with the visa.

Where is the courage of our nation’s elected officials to do these things before entrapping legal Americans in a totalitarian nightmare?

Americans should object to “solutions” that burden American private enterprise, hospitals and local services. It is so easy to hand down edicts that force private companies and hospital workers to bear the burden and the cost of screening for illegals. Yet government refuses to even force local police to do those tasks.

Federal data banks and national ID cards enforced on law abiding Americans isn’t a bold solution for protection – rather it’s political cowardice.

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.