Tag: national id

Senator Graham’s Inexplicable National ID Support

Compromise is catnip in Washington, D.C. That’s my best guess at why Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) would endorse New York Senator Chuck Schumer’s (D) widely reviled plan to create a mandatory biometric national ID system.

Schumer’s national ID plans have no more definition today than when he wrote about them in his 2007 campaign manifesto Postitively American. Among the thin gruel of that book is a two-page lump displaying more ignorance than understanding of how identity systems work and fail. Schumer doesn’t know the difference between an identifier—a characteristic used to distinguish or group people—and an identification card or system, which does the entire task of proving a person’s previously fixed identity. (My thin gruel on the topic is the book Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood.)

“All the national employment ID card will do is make forgery harder,” says Schumer.

No, that’s not all it would do: It would also subject every employment decision to the federal government’s approval. It would make surveillance of law-abiding citizens easier. It would allow the government to control access to health care. It would facilitate gun control. It would cost $100 billion dollars or more. It would draw bribery and corruption into the Social Security Administration. It would promote the development of sophisticated biometric identity fraud. How long should I go on?

Senator Graham’s take is equally simple: “We’ve all got Social Security cards,” he said to the Wall Street Journal. “They’re just easily tampered with. Make them tamper-proof. That’s all I’m saying.”

No, Senator, that’s not all you’re saying. You’re saying that native-born American citizens should be herded into Social Security Administration offices by the millions so they can have their biometrics collected in federal government databases. You’re saying that you’d like a system where working, traveling, going to the doctor, and using a credit card all depend on whether you can show your national ID. You’re saying that bigger government is the solution, not smaller government.

The point for these senators, of course, is not the substance. It’s the thrill they experience as nominal ideological opponents finding that they can agree on something, securing a potential breakthrough on the difficult immigration issue.

They’re only ”nominal” ideological opponents, though. Chuck Schumer has always been a big government guy—and long a supporter of having a national ID, despite the lessons of history. Lindsey Graham is not really his ideological opponent. Typical of politicians with years in Washington D.C., Graham is steadily migrating toward the big-government ideology that unites federal politicians and bureaucrats against the people.

Sen. Schumer’s Immigration Reform Is a National ID

So reports the Wall Street Journal:

Lawmakers working to craft a new comprehensive immigration bill have settled on a way to prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants: a national biometric identification card all American workers would eventually be required to obtain.

It’s the natural evolution of the policy called “internal enforcement” of immigration law, as I wrote in my paper, “Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”

Once in place, watch for this national ID to regulate access to financial services, housing, medical care and prescriptions—and, of course, serve as an internal passport.

Symbols, Security, and Collectivism

The state of Nevada is one of few that is tripping over itself to comply with the REAL ID Act, the U.S. national ID law.

It’s worth taking a look at the sample license displayed in this news report, especially the gold star used on the license to indicate that it is federally approved.

The reasons for “improving” drivers’ licenses this way are complex. The nominal reason for REAL ID was to secure the country against terrorism. The presence of a gold star signals that this the card bears a correct identity and that watch-list checking has ensured the person is not a threat.

Don’t be too thrilled, though. The weakness of watch-listing was demonstrated again by the Christmas-day attempt on a Northwest airlines flight. The underpants bomber wasn’t listed, so checking his name against a watch-list didn’t do anything.

The real reason for REAL ID, though, was anti-immigrant fervor. If the driver licensing system distinguished between citizens and non-citizens, the theory goes, possession of a driver’s license can be used to regulate access not just to driving, but to working, financial services, health care, and anything else the government wants. Illegal presence in the country could be made unpleasant enough that illegal immigrants would leave.

Alas, human behavior isn’t that simple. If ‘driven’ to it—(I had to…)—people will get behind the wheel without licenses—and without the training that comes with licensing. Then they’ll crash. When the governor of New York briefly de-linked driver licensing and immigration status in 2007, he cited public safety and the likelihood that insurance rates would fall, to the benefit of New Yorkers. (When the state of New Mexico de-linked driver licensing and immigration status, uninsured vehicle rates in the state dropped from 33 percent to 17 percent.) But the governor suffered withering criticism from anti-immigrant groups and quickly reversed course.

Like linking immigration status and driving, linking immigration status and work through an ID system imposes costs on the law-abiding citizen. Complications and counterattacks raise costs on workers and employers while reducing the already small benefits of such programs. I articulated those in my paper on employment eligibility verification.

REAL ID transfers well-being and wealth from individuals to the state.

But let’s return to this gold star…

The article says that the Nevada ID is becoming one of the hardest in the country to forge. But it’s hard to be sure. The gold star may undermine the anti-forgery goal.

Forgery is the making or altering of a document with the intent to defraud or deceive. The question is not whether the whole document can be made—I’m sure the new Nevada license is bristling with security doodads—it’s whether a document can be made to deceive.

Watch for the people who check licenses to fall into the habit of checking the gold star and taking that as evidence that the document is “good.” By a small but relevant margin, ID checkers will forget to compare the picture on the license to the face of the person presenting it. (Gold star? Go.) Putting a gold star on the license may make forgery easier. It’s not about the technical feasibility of creating the card; it’s how to fool people.

But this gold star. It will be taken as a shorthand for “citizen.” There are examples from the past in which governments used symbols to assign status to populations. It’s easy to go overboard with such comparisons, but the Nevada license, with this gold star, takes a dramatic step toward carving the population into groups—groups that can be divided. Maybe soon two stars will be for military veterans, or people licensed to own firearms. Three stars could be for elected officials.

With this gold star system, a Nevada license-holder is a little less of a free, independent person with rights and privileges based on individual merit. A Nevadan becomes an undifferentiated status-holding subject. We’re a long way from the day when the “gold star” people are assigned to better rail cars, but the idea is that it should never happen. We should reject entirely the tools that could allow the government to do that.

Need a Mortgage? Your Papers, Please …

In case you need any evidence that the federal background check system would expand to cover many more things than employment, that process is already underway. H.R. 4586 would require someone seeking modification of a home mortgage loan held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to be verified under the E-verify program. (Same would go for modifying mortgages insured under the National Housing Act.)

REAL ID Retreats Yet Again

Several different outlets are noting the quiet passing of a Department of Homeland Security deadline to implement our national ID law, the REAL ID Act.

In May of 2008, with many states outright rejecting this national surveillance mandate, the DHS issued blanket waivers and set a new deadline of December 31, 2009 by which states were supposed to meet several compliance goals.

They have not, and the threat that the DHS/Transportation Security Administration would prevent Americans from traveling has quieted to a whimper.

The reason why? The federal government would be blamed for it. As Neala Schwartzberg writes in her review of the push and pull over REAL ID:

If I was a betting person (and I am from time to time) I’d bet the backed-up-down-the-corridor traveler who is then turned away after presenting his or her state-issued, official complete with hologram ID will blame Homeland Security.

Does the ongoing collapse of REAL ID leave us vulnerable?

Richard Esguerra of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says in this Wired article that REAL ID “threatens citizens’ personal privacy without actually justifying its impact or improving security.”

REAL ID remains a dead letter. All that remains is for Congress to declare it so. And it may be dawning on Congress that passing it a second time under the name “PASS ID” will not work.

University of Denver Panel Recommends You Have a National ID

If you have a job, a panel convened by the University of Denver thinks you should have a national ID card.

DU’s “Report of the Strategic Issues Panel on Immigration” says:

The idea of a national card for identifying citizens and non-citizens has become the third rail of immigration politics. But in truth, without a means of positive identification, it makes very little difference what immigration policies are adopted because they can’t be effectively enforced. A means of positive identification is essential to prevent the employment of illegal immigrants.

Only the panel’s narrow framing leads to this conclusion.

Restrictive immigration policies may require a national ID and federal background check system because such policies are so at odds with employers’ and workers’ interests. The federal government will have to continually investigate workers and employers to maintain them.

But policies that align immigration rates with our country’s demand for new workers would foster the rule of law naturally—without a national ID, worker surveillance, and an overweening federal government.

Much hand-waving animates the report. It imagines a card system that is “extremely difficult or impossible to counterfeit.” But that’s a product of how much value your card system controls—the more value, the more effort goes into forging it—and access to employment in the U.S. is worth a lot. The report says nothing about fraud in the card issuance process.

Nor does it calculate the expense to our nation’s seven million employers—many of them small businesses, families, and individuals—for getting card readers. Their proposal to hold employers harmless is an embossed invitation to fraud on the system—unless those inexpensive card readers are also fingerprint or iris scanners. If the system is going to work, someone legally responsible has to verify that the card belongs to the person presenting it. And if you’re going to use biometric scanners, there is a lot of work yet to be done to control error rates.

Of privacy concerns, the panel says it listened to “experts and advocates on all sides.” But the advisors listed in the report do not include any privacy expert or civil liberties advocate. They do include an advocate for restrictionist immigration policies, a police chief, a former U.S. attorney, a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, a Colorado state homeland security official, a federal Department of Homeland Security official, a sheriff, the Colorado Attorney General, and a CIA officer. It is unlikely that the one “immigrant rights” advocate addressed the privacy issues for U.S. citizens, much less the technical and data security problems.

It’s not new for people focusing on one issue to think that a national ID is their solution. In fact, it’s typical for people to think that sprinkling technology over economic and social problems can solve them.

‘Has Any of This Made Us Safer?’

In the November 6th Washington Post, Petula Dvorak lamented the effect of REAL ID compliance on women who have changed their names. The Department of Homeland Security is about to give out blanket waivers to states across the country who have not complied with REAL ID requirements — again. But some states have been making it harder to get licenses because of the national ID standards they still think are coming.

“I doubt the most notorious terrorists of our time — the Sept. 11 hijackers, Timothy McVeigh — would have been stopped by these new DMV requirements,” Dvorak writes. ”All these laws have done is make us more harried, more paranoid and more red-faced than ever.”