National ID Debate is Irrelevant

by on March 14, 2005 · 6 comments

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be wary of the abuse of government power, but it is to say that arguments over whether or not we should have a national ID are outdated. The truth is that we already have at least two national IDs: our driver’s license and our social security numbers.

The more important issue Americans face is how to ensure that government is strong enough to fight terrorists but also weak enough to be forced to respect liberty, privacy and the general will of the people. This may mean stronger security on national ID accompanied by stronger constraints on what government can do with the data. For more, see my recent column here.

  • Tom Pearson

    I think your article ably demonstrates why it is dangerous to allow government agencies to manage and maintain databses which house sensitive personal identification information. You’re also correct in noting that the ID debate is a symptom of a much larger problem. However, your conclusion that government should be responsible for collecting enough data to make us safe doesn’t seem to follow and begs two questions: what is an appropriate amount of information and what does safety mean in this context? I realize that space constraints make it hard to address all of these issues in depth, but advocating a position and then merely mentioning that the devil is indeed in the details (“arduous task”) is likely to be misleading. I don’t trust the Post Office to deliver my mail effectively, why would I trust an agency to use my data in a responsible way? I think the larger question is why government should be involved in identification at all? Too, public choice thoery teaches us that a public watchdog agency in charge of privacy and civil liberties issues is likely to succumb to the perverse incentives to abuse power that are inherent in bureaucracy. Look at the “reform” committee chaired by Mr. Waxman. Federal agencies have shown time and again that they cannot be trusted with power over managing data, why give them any more? My two cents.

  • Tom Pearson

    I think your article ably demonstrates why it is dangerous to allow government agencies to manage and maintain databses which house sensitive personal identification information. You’re also correct in noting that the ID debate is a symptom of a much larger problem. However, your conclusion that government should be responsible for collecting enough data to make us safe doesn’t seem to follow and begs two questions: what is an appropriate amount of information and what does safety mean in this context? I realize that space constraints make it hard to address all of these issues in depth, but advocating a position and then merely mentioning that the devil is indeed in the details (“arduous task”) is likely to be misleading. I don’t trust the Post Office to deliver my mail effectively, why would I trust an agency to use my data in a responsible way? I think the larger question is why government should be involved in identification at all? Too, public choice thoery teaches us that a public watchdog agency in charge of privacy and civil liberties issues is likely to succumb to the perverse incentives to abuse power that are inherent in bureaucracy. Look at the “reform” committee chaired by Mr. Waxman. Federal agencies have shown time and again that they cannot be trusted with power over managing data, why give them any more? My two cents.

  • Sonia Arrison

    Well, first you must cede the idea that government will be responsible for national security. You might argue that if it can’t deliver the mail, then it shouldn’t be responsible for protecting the country either. In that case, stop right there and advocate for a private army. But if you cede that government should have responsibility for national security (and I do), then there are a host of things it must do to further that goal. Being able to make sure that people are who they say they are is one step towards separating the terrorists from the non-terrorists, thus creating a safer state. I am not a computer security expert, so I would not presume to have a detailed plan as to how exactly this should be done, but I would argue that without oversight, the risk of abuse is very high. I would also say that paranoia of abuse that leads to the abandonment of steps toward stronger security is also a huge risk. That’s why I advocated for a separation of powers approach. I hope that helps to answer your questions.

  • Sonia Arrison

    Well, first you must cede the idea that government will be responsible for national security. You might argue that if it can’t deliver the mail, then it shouldn’t be responsible for protecting the country either. In that case, stop right there and advocate for a private army. But if you cede that government should have responsibility for national security (and I do), then there are a host of things it must do to further that goal. Being able to make sure that people are who they say they are is one step towards separating the terrorists from the non-terrorists, thus creating a safer state. I am not a computer security expert, so I would not presume to have a detailed plan as to how exactly this should be done, but I would argue that without oversight, the risk of abuse is very high. I would also say that paranoia of abuse that leads to the abandonment of steps toward stronger security is also a huge risk. That’s why I advocated for a separation of powers approach. I hope that helps to answer your questions.

  • http://timehascometoday.blogspot.com Tim

    I think that another point is often overlooked – IF we have a national ID card, then every person needs to be able to, with software and/or equipment that costs $20 max, be able to read the data on that card to review it for errors. For people who don’t have a computer, public libraries need to be equipped to handle this request. The data dumped needs to be clearly identified, to avoid misinterpretation by citizenry who may not be computer literate. These simple things would allow us to at least make sure the government is getting our data right.

  • http://timehascometoday.blogspot.com Tim

    I think that another point is often overlooked – IF we have a national ID card, then every person needs to be able to, with software and/or equipment that costs $20 max, be able to read the data on that card to review it for errors. For people who don’t have a computer, public libraries need to be equipped to handle this request. The data dumped needs to be clearly identified, to avoid misinterpretation by citizenry who may not be computer literate. These simple things would allow us to at least make sure the government is getting our data right.

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