Tag: ari schwartz

Assessing the Claim that CDT Opposes a National ID

It was good of Ari Schwartz to respond last week to my recent post querying whether the Center for Democracy and Technology outright opposes a national ID or simply “does not support” one.

Ari says CDT does oppose a national ID, and I believe that he honestly believes that. But it’s worth taking a look at whether the group’s actions are consistent with opposition to a national ID. I believe CDT’s actions – most recently its support of the PASS ID Act – support the creation of a national ID.

(The title of his post and some of his commentary suggest I have engaged in rhetorical excess and mischaracterized his views. Please do judge for yourself whether I’m being shrill or unfair, which is not my intention.)

First I want to address an unusual claim of Ari’s – that we already have a national ID system. If that is true, his support for PASS ID is more sensible because it is an opportunity to inject federal privacy protections into the existing system (putting aside whether it is a federal responsibility to manage a state system or systems).

Do We Already Have a National ID?

I have heard a few people suggest that we have a national ID in the form of the Social Security Number. I believe the SSN is a national identifier, but it fails the test of a national identification card or system because it is not used for identification. As we know well from the scourge of identity fraud, there is no definitive way to tie an SSN to a person. The SSN is not used for identification (at least not reliably and not alone), which is the third part of my national ID definition. (Senator Schumer might like the SSN to form the basis of a national ID system, of course.)

But Ari says something different. He does not claim any definition of “national ID” or “national ID system.” Instead, he appeals to the authority of a 2003 report from a National Academy of Sciences group entitled “Who Goes There?: Authentication Through the Lens of Privacy.” That report indeed says, “State-issued driver’s licenses are a de facto nationwide identity system” – on the second-to-last substantive page of its second-to-last substantive chapter

But this is a highly selective use of quotation. The year before, that same group issued a report called “IDs – Not That Easy: Questions About Nationwide Identity Systems.” From the beginning and throughout, that report discussed the many issues around proposals to create a “nationwide” identity system. If the NAS panel had already concluded that we have a national ID system, it would not have issued an entire report critiquing that prospect. It would have discussed the existing one as such. Ari’s one quote doesn’t do much to support the notion that we already have a national ID.

What’s more, CDT’s own public comments on the proposed REAL ID Act regulations in May 2007 said that its data-intensive “one person – one license/ID card – one record” policy would ”create a national identification system.”

If a national ID system already existed, the new policy wouldn’t create one. This is another authority at odds with the idea that we have a national ID system already.

Support of PASS ID might be forgiven if we had a national ID system and if PASS ID would improve it. But the claim we already have one is weak.

“Political Reality” and Its Manufacture

But the heart of Ari’s claim is that supporting PASS ID reflects good judgment in light of political reality.

Despite the fact that there are no federal politicians, no governors and no appointed officials from any party publicly supporting repeal of REAL ID today, CDT still says that repeal is an acceptable option. However, PASS ID would get to the same outcome, or better, in practice and has the added benefit of actually being a political possibility… . I realize that Harper has invested a lot of time fighting for the word “repeal,” but at some point we have to look at the political reality.

A “Dear Colleague” letter inviting support for a bill to repeal REAL ID circulated on the Hill last week. How many legislators will hesitate to sign on to the bill because they have heard that the PASS ID Act, and not repeal of REAL ID, is CDT’s preferred way forward?

The phrase “political reality” is more often used by advocates to craft the political reality they prefer than to describe anything truly real. Like the observer effect in experimental research, statements about “political reality” change political reality.  Convince enough people that a thing is “political reality” and the sought-after political reality becomes, simply, reality.

I wrote here before about how the National Governors Association, sensing profit, has worked diligently to make REAL ID a “political reality.” And it has certainly made some headway (though not enough). In the last Congress, the only legislation aimed at resolving the REAL ID impasse were bills to repeal REAL ID. Since then, the political reality is that Barack Obama was elected president and an administration far less friendly to a national ID took office. Democrats – who are on average less friendly to a national ID – made gains in both the House and Senate.

But how are political realities crafted? It has often been described as trying to get people on a bus. To pass a bill, you change it to get more people on the bus than get off.

The REAL ID bus was missing some important riders. It had security hawks, the Department of Homeland Security, anti-immigrant groups, DMV bureaucrats, public safety advocates, and the Bush Administration. But it didn’t have: state legislators and governors, privacy and civil liberties groups, and certain religious communities, among others.

PASS ID is for the most part an effort to bring on state legislators and governors. The NGA is hoping to broker the sale of state power to the federal government, locking in its own institutional role as a supplicant in Washington, D.C. for state political leaders.

But look who else was hanging around the bus station looking for rides! – CDT, the nominal civil liberties group. Alone it jumped on the bus, communicating to others less familiar with the issues that PASS ID represented a good way forward.

Happily, few have taken this signal. The authors of PASS ID were unable to escape the name “REAL ID,” which is a far more powerful beacon flashing national ID and all the ills that entails than CDT’s signal to the contrary.

This is not the first time that CDT’s penchant for compromise has assisted the national ID effort, though.

Compromising Toward National ID

The current push for a national ID has a short history that I summarized three years ago in a righteously titled post on the TechLiberationFront blog: “The Markle Foundation: Font of Evil II.”

Briefly, in December 2003, a group called the Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age recommended “both near-term measures and a longer-term research agenda to increase the reliability of identification while protecting privacy.” (Never mind that false identification was not a modus operandi of the 9/11 attacks.)

The 9/11 Commission, citing Markle, found that “[t]he federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as drivers licenses.” In December 2004, Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, including national standards for drivers’ licenses and identification cards, the national ID system recommended by the Markle Task Force. And in May 2005, Congress passed a strengthened national ID system in the REAL ID Act.

An earlier post, “The Markle Foundation: Font of Evil,” has more – and the text of a PoliTech debate between myself and Stewart Baker. Security hawk Baker was a participant in the Markle Foundation group, as was national ID advocate Amitai Etzioni. So was the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Jim Dempsey.

I had many reservations about the Markle Foundation Task Force and its work product, and in an April 2005 meeting of the DHS Privacy Committee, I asked Dempsey about what qualified people to serve on that task force, whether people were invited, and what might exclude them. A month before REAL ID passed, he said:

I think the Markle Task Force at least sought balance. And people came to the table committed to dialogue. And those who came with a particular point of view, I think, were all committed to listening. And I think people’s minds were changed… . What we were committed to in the Markle Task Force was changing our minds and trying to find a common ground and to try to understand each other. And we spent the time at it. And that, I think, is reflected in the product of the task force.

There isn’t a nicer, more genuine person working in public policy than Jim Dempsey. He is the consummate honest broker, and this statement of his intentions for the Markle Foundation I believe to be characteristically truthful and earnest.

But consider the possibility that others participating on the Markle Foundation Task Force did not share Jim’s predilection for honest dialogue and compromise. It is even possible that they mouthed these ideals while working intently to advance their goals, including creation of a national ID.

Stewart Baker, who I personally like, is canny and wily, and he wants to win. I see no evidence that Amitai Etzioni changed his mind about having a national ID when he authored the recommendation in the Markle report that ultimately produced REAL ID.

Other Markle participants I have talked to were unaware of what the report said about identity-based security, national identity standards, or a national ID. They don’t even know (or didn’t at the time) that lending your name to a report also lends it your credibility. Whatever privacy or civil liberties advocates were involved with the Markle Task Force got rolled – big-time – by the pro-national-ID team.

CDT is a sophisticated Washington, D.C. operation. It is supposed to understand these dynamics. I can’t give it the pass that outsiders to Washington might get. By committing to compromise rather than any principle, and by lending its name to the Markle Foundation Task Force report, CDT gave credibility to a bad idea – the creation of a national ID.

CDT helped produce the REAL ID Act, which has taken years of struggle to beat back. And now they are at it again with “pragmatic” support for PASS ID.

CDT has been consistently compromising on national ID issues while proponents of a national ID have been doggedly and persistently pursuing their interests. This is not the behavior of a civil liberties organization. It’s why I asked in the post that precipitated this debate whether there is anything that would cause CDT to push back from the table and say No.

Despite words to the contrary, I don’t see evidence that CDT opposes having a national ID. It certainly works around the edges to improve privacy in the context of having a national ID – reducing the wetness of the water, as it were – but at key junctures, CDT’s actions have tended to support having a U.S. national ID. I remain open to seeing contrary evidence.

EPIC on PASS ID: a National ID Card

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has produced a very thorough analysis of the PASS ID Act, which would revive the REAL ID national ID program.

The EPIC analysis states flatly, “The bill would establish a national ID card,” and, “The intent of this legislation is to facilitate a National ID system.”

That’s quite a contrast to Ari Schwartz at the Center for Democracy and Technology, who alone believes that PASS ID “prevents the creation of a National ID system.”

PASS ID and National ID - Rejoinder to Schwartz

Ari Schwartz responded in characteristic even tones to my critique of his testimony in favor of the PASS ID Act, which would revive the moribund REAL ID law. It’s worth a rejoinder, and I’ll offer him the same again here if he wishes.

Ari clouds matters slightly by suggesting that my “strong biases” obscure certain facts. I readily admit having a strong bias in favor of liberty – it’s why I do what I do. Ari admits several biases, including one in favor of consensus-building, which was what I accused him of prioritizing over principle. Let’s put aside the question of bias.

It’s good to see Ari state that CDT does not support a national ID system. It would be better to see him state that CDT opposes having a national ID system. (I imagine this is just a matter of word choice, but it would be good to have clarity.)

Next, Ari says his testimony “makes it clear that we believe that PASS ID prevents the creation of a National ID system.” I don’t believe this is clear from his testimony. More importantly, this is not a sound assessment of what a national ID is or what PASS ID does.

We need some defined terms, so let’s tease out what he means by “national ID.” (He has told me that there is some distinction between a “national ID,” a “national ID system,” and perhaps a “national ID card,” but the distinction is lost on me. I believe a national ID card is part of a national ID system, both of which are commonly referred to in shorthand as a “national ID.”)

Twice in his testimony, he correctly calls REAL ID a national ID system. The factors that make it so appear to be “the very real possibility that individuals would not be able to function in American society without a REAL ID card” and “giving unfettered discretion to DHS to expand the ‘official purposes’ for which REAL ID cards could be required.”

In my recent post on the subject, I defined a national ID as being a card: 1) nationally uniform in its key elements; 2) the possession of which is either practically or legally required; and 3) that is used for identification.

I think 1) and 3) are both given. Ari’s take on 2) - inability to function without it – and my formulation – practically required – are equivalent, so Ari and I agree on that much.

But is DHS discretion to expand “official purposes” an essential element of a national ID card? I don’t think so.

Let’s say Congress passes a law requiring employers to check a certain card before they hire new workers. What if Congress requires credit issuers to check the card? States require presentation of the card at the voting booth? What if Congress requires pharmacists to check it before selling people cold medicine?

Is this card system saved from being a “national ID system” because someone other than DHS came up with these ideas? Of course not. DHS discretion to expand usage is not what makes an ID system a “national ID system.”

The better definition is what we agree on: A national ID is national, identifying, and practically or legally required, meaning the lack of it disables people from functioning in society.

Do REAL ID and PASS ID differ in ways that make the one a national ID and the other not a national ID? No, and Ari doesn’t say so. He merely says PASS ID would slow national ID mission creep by some margin because it denies DHS some discretion. (PASS ID “[r]emoves from DHS’s authority the ability to unilaterally determine new official purposes for which a PASS ID-compliant card can be required … .”)

This is not central to “national ID-ness,” and PASS ID doesn’t actually deny DHS that authority – it simply removes the specific grant of authority in REAL ID. Removing a grant of authority in one law does not deny an agency authority it has elsewhere. (It’s like the difference between “not supporting” and “opposing” something.) DHS and other agencies almost certainly have power under other law to require the IDs they choose for functions that are plausibly related to security or fraud prevention.

I was wrong to assume that it was lack of principle driving CDT and Ari to endorse the PASS ID Act, which revives our moribund national ID law. Other explanations are no more palatable, though, and no other group that I am aware of missed the true import of PASS ID.

Here’s a memorable Bruce Schneier quote to emphasize the importance of opposing a national ID, which so many civil liberties groups are doing:

History will record what we, here in the early decades of the information age, did to foster freedom, liberty and democracy. Did we build information technologies that protected people’s freedoms even during times when society tried to subvert them? Or did we build technologies that could easily be modified to watch and control? It’s bad civic hygiene to build an infrastructure that can be used to facilitate a police state.

No civil liberties group supports PASS ID. CDT can’t claim that mantle while it does.