Tag: national id

National Surveillance Programs and Their State Impediments

Having originally come to Washington to defend federalism, I am always delighted to see the division of powers among the states and the federal government have its proper effect: to protect liberty and limited government.

As with REAL ID, the E-Verify federal background check system is meeting up with state resistance. The Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire reported yesterday:

This afternoon, the House passed HB 1549, which would prohibit the state’s participation in the E-Verify system, with a nearly unanimous voice vote. The House also killed HB 1492, which would require employers to verify an employee’s eligibility to work in the United States using the E-Verify System, with a 226-59 vote.

E-Verify is essentially a national identification system that requires employers to verify all job applicants’ citizenship in a national database system before they can employ them. If the state agreed to participate, all citizens would have to be listed in this national database as a U.S. citizen in order to get a job.

You want to fix immigration, feds? You do it without putting American citizens into a national ID system. Good message.

Here’s the clear language of HB 1549, which the New Hampshire House has approved to govern release of motor vehicle records. It embraces legitimate law enforcement while rejecting national identification schemes.

III. Motor vehicle records may be made available pursuant to a court order or in response to a request from a state, a political subdivision of a state, the federal government, or a law enforcement agency for use in official business. The request shall be on a case-by-case basis. Any records received pursuant to this paragraph shall not be further transferred or otherwise made available to any other person or listed entity not authorized under this paragraph. No records made available under this section shall be used, directly or indirectly, for any federal identification database. (New language in bold.)

To learn more about E-Verify and its role as a nascent national identification scheme, read my Cato Policy Analysis: “Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification: Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”

The REAL ID Fight Continues in the States

Federal programs almost never die. Bureaucrats and their big-government allies are still trying to cobble together an American national ID.

But leaders in the states continue to fight. In this case, it’s Michigan state representative and House transportation committee chairman Paul Opsommer (R-DeWitt). In response to a recent report citing state compliance with REAL ID “benchmarks,” he’s put out a scathing report that was written up in the River Country (MI) Journal.

“The things we have done in Michigan, like making sure illegal aliens cannot get driver’s licenses, we are doing independently of REAL ID, and we are not interested in allowing the federal government to have permanent control over our licenses,” said Opsommer. “You can bet your bottom dollar that at some point if Obamacare is not repealed that the federal government will adopt new rules in the future requiring the cards’ use for access to healthcare. You can bet they will require it to buy a firearm. You can bet they ultimately want to put RFID chips into all these and share our full data with Canada, Mexico, and beyond. If we don’t repeal Title II of the REAL ID Act, all we are doing is putting off the ‘I told you so’ moment for a few years down the road.”

The tensions that the Framers of the Constitution designed into our governmental structure are doing their work through Rep. Opsommer.

“State documents should be state documents, and federal documents should be federal documents,” he says.

“If the federal government is bent on having a national ID card, they need to get their own house in order and start to make federal passports more secure and more affordable. Quit trying to outsource your own mismanagement of the federal passport system onto the states and let us get onto the business of issuing our own safe and secure sovereign driver’s licenses.”

The bureaucrats will keep at it at least until the Congress defunds REAL ID. But they’ll keep bumping into the likes or Rep. Paul Opsommer.

Cardless National ID and the E-Verify Rebellion

New Hampshire was the state where the “REAL ID rebellion” got its start. There, in 2006, Rep. Neal Kurk (R-Weare) took to the floor of the New Hampshire House to talk about his principled opposition to the federal national ID law.

In stirring words, Kurk urged his colleagues to overturn a committee recommendation that no action should be taken on his bill to have New Hampshire reject REAL ID. The House went on to pass his bill and half the states in the nation soon followed suit.

Now a bill pending in the New Hampshire House responds to a more insidious version of the federal government’s national ID plans: E-Verify.

E-Verify is a federal background check system that its proponents intend to be used on every person seeking work in the United States. Once in place, E-Verify would expand to new uses, giving the federal government direct regulatory control of all Americans’ lives through control of proof of identity. It’s being fitted to operate using only databases, so I’ve been referring to it as a “cardless national ID.”

New Hampshire Rep. Seth Cohn (R-Merrimack 6) has introduced a bill to prevent his state from contributing New Hampshirites’ personal data to the E-Verify system. HB 1549 would not only prohibit the state from allowing citizens’ personal data to be used in E-Verify. It would prohibit the state from requiring employers to participate in the E-Verify system.

It’s an appropriate response to the Department of Homeland Security’s latest move. You see, a branch of E-Verify is called the “RIDE” program. That stands for “Records and Information from Department of Motor Vehicles for E-Verify” (Yeah, it’s a stretch…) Basically, RIDE is the conduit through which the states are going to start passing data to the federal government, weaving together that national ID outside of the REAL ID Act.

In their desire to bring illegal immigration under control, a lot of people have convinced themselves over many years that growing the federal government and conscripting businesses into “internal enforcement” of immigration law was the way to go. Unfortunately, that route costs a lot of money, it bloats the federal government, and it requires a national ID system, which is a threat to liberty that Americans reject. My paper, “Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration,” goes through many of the details.

Is this the beginning of the E-Verify rebellion? It’s a welcome addition to the national debate from the “Live Free or Die” state.

Photo ID Laws Mean Some Won’t Vote

Because all of us are with ourselves all day every day, we naturally tend to think that our own lives are pretty standard fare. But that’s just not so in a country of 300+ million people ranging over a vast expanse. So I found worthwhile this NPR story on people who don’t have IDs, people who face difficulty with laws requiring IDs to vote. Not everyone trundles down to the DMV and plunks down money and paperwork for an ID whenever they please.

The voter ID issue is a hot one. Some are strongly committed to the idea that identification requirements are needed to suppress voter fraud. There isn’t much evidence of that problem, and to worry about impersonation fraud at polling places, one has to put aside absentee ballot fraud, which is probably much easier, as well as election fraud—rigged vote counts, for example—which is much more efficient.

States should tinker with their voting rules and processes, each seeking for itself the methods that optimally secure elections while facilitating voting. It’s a big country, and different states may require different rules. My emphasis has always been on avoiding a national voter ID system, which would inevitably be a national ID system, paving the way for greater federal control of individuals’ lives.

Romney Supports National ID, Government Pre-Approval of Working

Speaking at a town hall meeting at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney backed a national ID system and government pre-approval of all new hires in the country. It’s a stunning amount of power he wants the federal government to have.

Addressing a question about illegal immigration (starting at 30:40 in this video) he said:

You’ve got to crack down on employers that hire people that are illegal, and that means you have to have a system that identifies who’s here legally, with a biometric card that has: this is the person, they’re allowed to work here. You say to an employer, you look at that card, you swipe it in your computer, you type in the number, it instantly tells you whether they’re legal or not.

He’s describing an expanded E-Verify system, and the biometric national identity system that has been proposed for it. That system would not only be used for controlling employment, of course. Like the Social Security number did when it caught mission creep, the national ID Romney talks about would come to be used to control access to housing, to financial services and credit, gun ownership, health care and medicine, the list goes on and on.

It’s technically possible to have a biometric card that solely indicates one’s qualification to work under federal law, but as I wrote in my paper, “Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration,” there is almost no chance that the government would limit itself this way. E-Verify requires a national identity system, and Mitt Romney wants that national identity system.

Question for Candidates: Yes or No to a National ID?

Back in March of this year, with a May deadline for REAL ID compliance looming, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security quietly kicked the can down the road. It once again changed the date on which states would have to implement federal standards for their drivers’ licenses and IDs.

The original deadline was three years after the law’s May 2005 passage. It has now been more than five years and there’s no REAL ID thanks to resistance from states around the country. Congress has not moved to repeal this failed law. In fact, it still appropriates money to REAL ID in the Homeland Security appropriations bill.

The DHS has now set a new compliance deadline at January 15, 2013. That’s five days before the next presidential term begins on January 20, 2013. Indeed, the period between the election and the inauguration is when the question of whether to enforce REAL ID against the states will be decided.

Which puts a question before the Republican candidates vying for the highest political office. Where do you stand on the national ID issue? If your Transportation Security Administration is turning fliers away from airports because their states aren’t going along with this federal surveillance mandate, are you going to stand by the feds or stand by the states and people who say no to having a national ID?

The question is a nice bellwether for Republicans on both federalism and essential American liberty.

The New—-Cardless!—-National ID

Your chance to comment on a Department of Homeland Security plan to tap into state drivers’ license databases and create a new national ID system expires next week. It’s the groundwork for a cardless national ID, which threatens liberty even more than card-based schemes like REAL ID.

The E-Verify program’s move to merge federal background checks and state driver license data sets the stage for satisfying all three elements of a national ID. (Two years ago, I discussed what constitutes a national ID in some detail.) E-Verify has not satisfied these criteria up to now, but the pieces are coming together quickly.

First, it is national. That is, it is intended to be used throughout the country, and to be nationally uniform in its key elements. If its proponents have their way, E-Verify will indeed soon go national, a requirement on every employer to vet new workers past the federal government’s databases.

Second, its use is either practically or legally required. This is a judgment call, but in two diferent ways, E-Verify appears to meet this element. First, not having data in the E-Verify databases means not having legal work, so “participation” in E-Verify can be fairly called practically required. Second, try to opt out of the system and you will meet a dead end. The program includes no opportunity I know of to refuse participation. It’s legally required if the state or federal governments have got your identity data.

I could be wrong, of course. Interested researchers should try contacting their state motor vehicle bureaus (cc: your state legislators) and ask not to have data about you transferred to the federal government for E-Verify. Please let me know what you learn.

The final “element” of a national ID is that it is used for identification. Up to now, E-Verify has  largely worked by comparing identifiers. (I.e., Does this name match this Social Security number?) The current plan is to tap into state databases for more identifiers: name, date of birth, driver’s license/permit number, and so on. From there, it’s a short ride to gathering drivers’ license photos and biometric descriptors. (E-Verify already uses federally acquired photos in its “Photo Screening Tool.”) With the inclusion of your driver’s license photo, the E-Verify system will be able to display your picture on the screen of anyone who looks you up, allowing for positive identification.

This is a national identification system. If every employer has to use E-Verify—or even every major employer—it will become the all-purpose security device, used for cashing checks, confirming the name on credit cards, and looking you up at the prescription counter. Of course, it will be used at airport checkpoints. You’ll be screened through E-Verify at entrances to government buildings—maybe private buildings, too. And why not for random, “instant” checks at the subway or bus station? 

Just remember: If you have a tax dispute with the government, the Department of Homeland Security might flag you in the database—or it might de-identify you entirely—until you get right with the government.

Because it’s a database system, you won’t be able to argue your case like you can in the familiar card environment. With a card, at least, you can say, “No, look. This is me. This is my ID card. This is my picture. Give me my prescription.” With E-Verify, the answer will be, “Sorry, you have to talk to DHS or Social Security.” For good reason, I named my paper on electronic employment eligibility verification, “Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”

Arguments for the E-Verify system sounding in practicality and common sense do not hold up, but there are also principled reasons to oppose having a government background check system. Using E-Verify, the Department of Homeland Security is rapidly assembling a national ID system that can be converted to boundless uses. In addition to controlling employment, E-Verify can be put to use in regulating access to health care and housing, in gun control and registration, in monitoring travel and lodging—the list goes on and on.

I went through the arguments against having a national identification system in my book, Identity Crisis. In brief, a national ID would strip us of privacy even faster than is already happening, producing formal dossiers and increased surveillance. A national ID would transfer power en masse from individuals to governments. They would administer our rights by controlling the tools we need to navigate a “papers, please” society. A national ID would also be insecure, as it centralizes and homogenizes information assets (identity data) that are more secure if widely dispersed and heterogeneous.

As I noted last week, the federal government cannot and will not implement the REAL ID Act. So it’s on a new tack: E-Verify will soon be the new national ID.