Editorial on National ID Cards
By Laura W. Murphy
"Show me your papers" is a phrase most Americans would never expect to
hear in their everyday lives, but with the intelligence bill passed by
Congress last week, that's the type of Big-Brother society we're
becoming. The de facto national ID that lawmakers approved won't make
us any safer, but it will make us much less free.
Most people already use a driver's license -- to cash checks, vote and
travel -- so what's wrong with standardizing and consolidating data?
A national ID is an identity thief's dream come true. Under new
federal guidelines, state IDs must include personal information, plus
a digital photograph, and they must be "machine readable." Businesses
might soon be able to swipe your ID to track what you bought, and when
and where you bought it. They could be able to use that information
themselves or sell it to others.
Since 9/11, Americans have had to weigh tradeoffs between privacy and
security. A national ID, though, protects neither. Of the 25 countries
most affected by terrorist attacks -- including Israel -- 80% already
have national IDs. A national ID hasn't made these nations any
A convincing case has not been made that this system would have
stopped 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing, because a national ID
cannot reveal malicious intentions. For example, some of the 9/11
hijackers obtained identification documents legally, and were in the
It takes good, old-fashioned police work to follow up on leads and
separate the Mohamed Attas and Timothy McVeighs from law-abiding
A national ID wouldn't have stopped those with fake IDs, either. An ID
is only as secure as the "source documents" it requires. Someone who
used a fake birth certificate and fake Social Security card to get an
ID will still be able to do so under the new law; the same people who
manufacture fake driver's licenses today will be manufacturing fake
national IDs tomorrow.
Our privacy isn't the only price we'll pay for this system. Enacting
this legislation will cost billions of dollars -- money better spent on
real security measures that will keep us both safe and free.</p>
Laura W. Murphy is director of the American Civil Liberties Union's
Washington Legislative Office.
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