Tag: national id

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.

REAL ID: An Afterthought, Tacked On

Yesterday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee had a hearing entitled: “Ten Years After 9/11: A Report From the 9/11 Commission Chairmen,” part of what evidently will be a series commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this September.

At the end of his oral statement, former 9/11 Commission co-chairman Tom Keane made a half-hearted pitch for implementation of the REAL ID Act, the national ID law Congress passed attached to a military spending bill in early 2005. His written statement with fellow former co-chair Lee Hamilton dedicates three paragraphs (out of 23 pages) to the appeal for the national ID law.

The paltriness of Keane’s argument for a national ID parallels the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission report. It dedicated three-quarters of a page (out of 400+ pages) to identity documents. The 9/11 Commission report did not detail how a national ID would have secured against 9/11 in any way that is remotely cost-effective. Indeed, nobody ever has, much less how having a national ID would secure against future attacks.

In his testimony, Governor Keane touted the expertise of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group, with which he is affiliated. Given all that expertise and the supposed urgency of implementing the national ID law, you would think that the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Web site would have a definitive articulation of how REAL ID would secure the country. It doesn’t.

At the time it was rammed through Congress, Senator Lieberman (I-CT) spoke out against REAL ID on the Senate floor:

I urge my colleagues to oppose the REAL ID Act. We must ask our Senate conferees not to allow such a controversial measure to be pushed through Congress on an emergency spending bill. The REAL ID Act contradicts our historic identity as a nation that provides haven for the oppressed. The REAL ID Act would not make us safer. It would make us less safe.

If the 9/11 Commission co-chairs, the Bipartisan Policy Center, or any other set of advocates want to go to battle over REAL ID, they should make their best case for having this national ID. Tell us how it would work, and how it would defeat the counterattacks and complications of national-scale identity systems. Anyone attempting to do so can expect a schooling from yours truly, of course. The alternative, which I recommend, is to drop the national ID advocacy and work on things that cost-effectively secure the country without sacrificing our freedom and privacy.

Does Rep. Aderholt Support or Oppose Having a National ID?

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) is the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. That’s the subcommittee that makes spending decisions for the Department of Homeland Security and the programs within it, including the REAL ID Act.

Earlier this month, a constituent of his from Fyffe, Alabama posted a question on Mr. Aderholt’s Facebook page:

Rep. Aderholt, I’ve seen reports that the “REAL ID ACT” will be implemented in May of this year, giving the govt the ability to track every person who has a drivers license via encoded GPS. Is this actually the case and if so, what is the House going to do to stop this Orwellian infringement of our Liberty. Also, HOW could this have happened in the first place!

Mr. Aderholt has not replied.

But Right Side News recently reported on a hearing in which DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano presented her agency’s budget request. The DHS has not requested funds for implementing REAL ID. But according to the report, Chairman Aderholt “pointedly reminded” the committee of the need for funding of REAL ID.

It is good of Representative Aderholt to give his constituents a means to contact him and to invite public discussion of the issues. It’s an open question whether he will listen more closely to the voice of his constituents or to influences in Washington, D.C. who would like to see law-abiding American citizens herded into a national ID system.

Is the REAL ID Rebellion Coming to Florida?

Until now, Florida has not been one of the states to buck the federal government’s national ID mandate, established in the REAL ID Act of 2005. A pair of grand jury reports in 2002 had moved the state to tighten its driver licensing processes prior to any federal action, so it was already doing many of the things that the Department of Homeland Security is now seeking to require of states in the name of REAL ID.

Full compliance with REAL ID remains a distant hope, so DHS has set out a list of 18 “milestones,” progress toward which it is treating as REAL ID compliance. Full compliance with REAL ID includes putting driver information into a network for nationwide information sharing—including scanned copies of basic identity documents. It includes giving all licensees and ID holders a nationally uniform driver’s license or ID card so their identity can be checked at airports, federal facilities, and wherever the Secretary of Homeland Security determines to have federal checkpoints.

Again, the state of Florida meets DHS’ milestones. Starting from an already strict driver licensing regime, the state’s bureaucrats have been doing (and asking the legislature to do) things that match up with the requirements of the national ID law. But now, thanks to the work of Florida’s Tenth Amendment Center, Floridians Against REAL ID, and others, the legislature is beginning to pay attention.

Why is it so hard for law-abiding citizens and residents of Florida to get or renew their licenses? What kinds of barriers to progress are being thrown in front of lawful immigrants from Haiti, who haven’t the documentation required to get a license and thus a job?

Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando) has lived in Florida since 1955 and was elected to the Florida legislature in 2006. She was born in New Orleans and is not able to get a copy of her birth certificate. The Florida Department of Motor Vehicles would not accept her Florida House ID card as proof of her identity!

Several members of the Florida legislature are concerned that the state is scanning and databasing the basic identity documents of Floridians, exposing those documents and the people of Florida to unknown cybersecurity risks. If these databases were hacked, Floridians’ data would be treasure trove for identity fraud. A breach of an entire state’s identity data could collapse the system we now rely on to know who people are. This is not an improvement in security for Floridians.

Florida’s Cuban ex-pat population has some idea of what could result if they were herded into a national identity system. They are too familiar with central government control of access to goods, services, employment, and other essentials of life. Advocates of national ID systems here in the United States have already argued for using REAL ID to control access to employment, to financial services and credit, to medicines, to housing, and more.

In my testimony to the Florida legislature, I noted that the federal government is impotent to enforce REAL ID. The political costs of a DHS attack on air travel (if it refused to recognize drivers’ licenses from non-compliant states at airport checkpoints) would be too high. Indeed, word is spreading that DHS will soon extend the REAL ID deadline once again.

What’s clear from my visit to Florida is that legislators there respond to what they hear from their constituents. It’s unclear what the Florida legislature will do to reassert control of its driver licensing policy from the concerted action of the federal government and its motor vehicle bureaucrats.

One of the questions they might ask is, “Who committed Florida to comply with REAL ID?” That’s item number seventeen in the DHS’ eighteen-point material compliance checklist.

REAL ID Is Still Dead, But It Is Walking Dead

The cost and ease of implementing REAL ID are not shown by a new report from the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies.

Nor does it establish why law-abiding American citizens should be required to carry a national ID. But the report is a good signal that the national ID effort continues. A coterie of national ID advocates are working with state motor vehicle bureaucrats to build a national ID. This is why repeal and defunding of REAL ID is so needed.

It’s been a while, so let’s review: REAL ID is the national ID law Congress passed in May of 2005. It gave states a three-year deadline to produce IDs meeting national standards and to network their databases of driver information together into a national ID system. In regulations it proposed in March 2007, the Department of Homeland Security extended that draconian deadline. States would have five years, starting in May 2008, to move all driver’s license and ID card holders into REAL ID-compliant cards.

At the time, DHS estimated the costs for this project at $17.2 billion dollars (net present value, 7% discount). Costs to individuals came it at nearly $6 billion—mostly in wasted time. The bulk of the costs fell on state governments, though: nearly $11 billion dollars.

To drive down the cost estimate, DHS pushed the implementation schedule way back. In its final rule of January 2008, it allowed states a deadline extension to December 31, 2009 just for the asking, and a second extension to May 2011 for meeting eighteen “benchmarks”—many of them things states were already doing or would have done anyway: taking pictures of license applicants, having them sign their applications, documenting their dates of birth, maintaining fraudulent document training programs, and so on.

Then states would have until the end of 2017 to replace all cards with the national ID card—just under ten years. DHS assumed that only 75% of people would actually get the national ID to drive the cost estimate down even further.

The Center for Immigration Studies report, authored by national ID lobbyist Janice Kephart, ratchets back even further on what ”implementation” means to argue that REAL ID is a cost-effective success.

States like Maryland and Delaware, once committed, have completed implementation of the 18 benchmarks within a year for only twice the grant monies provided by the federal government. Extrapolated out, that puts total costs for implementing the 18 REAL ID benchmarks in a range from $350 million to $750 million, an order of magnitude less than estimated previously.

Again, these benchmarks are not the substance of REAL ID, which is uniform collection and sharing of driver information, and uniform display of driver information in the “machine-readable zone” of a national ID card. But meeting some of the benchmarks only costs twice as much money as the states don’t have to spare!

The report is an important signal, though. The national ID builders haven’t gone away, and Congress continues to fund the national ID project. DHS has allocated $176 million to building a national ID so far, and it has gaudily rattled states’ cages trying to get them to spend.

During the debate about spending for the current (2011) fiscal year, the House-passed “Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act” defunded the network for driver information sharing known as the “REAL ID hub,” and it also rescinded $16,500,000 in previously spent funds. That rescission should be included when the current Congress takes up FY 2011 spending again in March. And Congress should put a stake through the heart of the REAL ID law. The liberty-crushing national ID plan should be repealed, eliminated once and for all.

Facebook as Identity Provider

It might take Facebook awhile to turn identity provision into a revenue opportunity, but if it is a money-maker, it could be a substantial one. Simson Garfinkel has a piece in Technology Review that goes into some of the things Facebook is doing with its “Connect” service.

As security professionals debate whether the Internet needs an “identity layer”—a uniform protocol for authenticating users’ identities—a growing number of websites are voting with their code, adopting “Facebook Connect” as a way for anyone with a Facebook account to log into the site at the click of a button.

It’s a good, relatively short article, worth a read.

As an online identity provider, Facebook could facilitate secure commerce and communication in a way that’s easy and familiar for consumers. That adds value to the Internet ecosystem, and Facebook may be able to extract some of the surplus for itself—perhaps by charging sites and services that are heavy users small amounts per login via Connect. The security challenges of such a system would grow as more sites and services rely on it, of course, and Garfinkel highlights them in an accessible way—accessible as you’re going to get, anyway.

Quibbles are always more interesting, so I’ll note that I cocked my head to one side where Garfinkel asks “whether it’s a good thing for one company to hold such a position of power.” Strange.

Taking “power” in its philosophical sense to mean “a measure of an entity’s ability to control its environment, including the behavior of other entities,” Facebook Connect gives the company very little power. Separate, per-site logins—or a parallel service that might be created by Google, for example—are near at hand and easy to switch to for anyone who doesn’t like Facebook’s offering.

Ironically, Garfinkel refers to these identity services as “Internet driver’s licenses,” inviting a comparison with the power structure in the real-world licensing area. If you want to drive a car legally, there are no alternatives to dealing with the state, so the state can impose onerous conditions on licensing. Drivers’ licenses require one to share a great deal of information, they cost a lot of money (relative to Facebook’s dollar price of “free”), and switching is not an option if the issuer starts to change the bargain and enroll licensees in a national ID system. Garfinkel himself noted how drivers’ licenses enhance state power in a good 1994 Wired article.

In sum, the upsides of an identity marketplace are there, for both consumers and for Facebook. The downsides are relatively small. The “power” exercised by any provider in a marketplace for identity provision is small compared to the alternative of using states as identity providers.

ID Requirements and the Indigent

I’ve emphasized in the past that a national ID requirement—for travel, for work, whatever the case—would exclude the indigent from rungs on the ladder.

If you don’t know the story of the homeless man whose golden radio voice got him a second chance, you should.  But, as the New York Daily News reports, his long-awaited reunion with his mother has been delayed while he proves his identity so he can fly.

A land of freedom doesn’t put paperwork requirements between a man on the rebound and a long-awaited reunion with his mother.