Since the events of 9-11, the United States has floundered in a quagmire of civil rights versus the security of our homeland. We no longer live in the same world as the one before the terrorist attacks. Tough decisions have to be made about how we intend to prevent future attacks, and what those decisions might mean for our personal freedoms.
To say that merely giving everyone a government-issued ID is the answer, is to oversimplify the issue. None of the 9-11 hijackers had fake ID’s. Four of them had legal ID’s, and only two were on the FBI’s watch list. The hijackers did not escape the scrutiny of security because of a lack of a national ID card, they escaped scrutiny because there was not a reliable system in place with law enforcement and intelligence (Abernathy and Tien).
Standard ID cards are not voluntary at all, according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor. Anyone who has to travel for business, run a business, drive or enter and exit public buildings knows that an ID is mandatory if one is to accomplish various daily activities (Etzioni). According to an article from the Electronic Frontier Foundation,
Proponents of new national ID systems believe that adding technological features to the cards themselves will eliminate problems inherent to such systems, like fraud and forgery. History does not smile on this belief. If a card can be affordably mass-manufactured, it can also be forged. The addition of “high-tech” features–embedded “smart” chips, biometric interlocking, and linking of card data to databases–all promise to make cards less forgeable, and for a while will succeed. However, a cruel paradox of identity card systems is that the more secure a card is, the greater its value, and the greater the incentive and reward for breaking the card. Any card or device in the public’s hands long enough will be cracked. The more secure the card, the more expensive it will be to roll out, and the more costly will be its eventual failure (Abernathy and Tien).
Privacy concerns with a National ID Card are formidable. Bruce Schneider, a security specialist, contends that a security system should be based on how it will fail, rather than how it will succeed. The ways in which it would fail are numerous and far-reaching, and based upon the meshing of disparate databases with conflicting architecture. Additionally, Schneider believes that the inherent value of a National ID Card, would encourage forgery, since the payoff would be much greater. “That’s why,” he says. “when someone asks me to rate the security of a national ID card on a scale of one to 10, I can’t give an answer. It doesn’t even belong on a scale” Knowing someone’s identity does not always insure that we can know what they are planning, either, as many suicide bombers have no history of criminal activity, and notorious criminals like the DC Snipers, the Unibomber, and Timothy McVeigh, had no prior record of wrongdoing. Thus, knowing someone’s identity does not always prevent actions they might take (Schneider).
Privacy and anonymity are two different things, argues Alan Dershowitz, a well known Harvard Law Professor:
Rights are a function of experience, and our recent experiences teach that it is far too easy to be anonymous–even to create a false identity-in this large and decentralized country. A national ID card would not prevent all threats of terrorism, but it would make it more difficult for potential terrorists to hide in open view, as many of the September 11 hijackers apparently managed to do (Dershowitz, pg. 16).
Dershowitz goes on to say that fears about officials demanding to see identification improperly, can be addressed by setting steadfast parameters in that regard, and making sure they are adhered to. Additionally, Dershowitz argues that racial profiling would become a thing of the past, since the uniform, national ID card would eliminate the need for misjudgment, since anyone possessing the card with the name, address, photo and fingerprint, would be considered legitimate and allowed to go about his or her business .
As with most controversial issues, the viability and wisdom of having a National ID Card is more about how the change is implemented, supported, and enforced, than about the card itself. If parameters are in place to assure that it will not be misused, then it hasevery possibility of becoming another tool in the protection of individuals and countries who wish to be as safe as possible from identity theft, forgery, deceit and even terrorism.