Tag: national id

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.

Another Nail in REAL ID’s Coffin

The REAL ID Act—the 2005 national ID law rejected by the states asked to implement it—continues its long slow death. The latest nail in the coffin: moves in Congress to defund the “hub” system that would share driver information nationwide.

The House-passed “Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act” contains the following language in the section that funds U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services: “none of the funds made available in this section shall be available for development of the system commonly known as the ‘REAL ID hub’.”

And also: “From unobligated balances of prior year appropriations made available for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for the program commonly known as the ‘REAL ID hub’, $16,500,000 is rescinded.”

Senator Inouye’s (D-HI) amendment in the Senate also denies USCIS funding for the REAL ID hub. And it, too, rescinds $16.5 million in prior-year funding.

Money spent on REAL ID is waste. That money should be put to better uses, including deficit reduction. No future money should go to the national ID boondoggle, and REAL ID should be repealed once and for all.

State Bureaucrats Continuing to Advance REAL ID

Across the country, state legislatures have objected to, and outright rejected, the national ID and surveillance mandate imposed on them by the REAL ID Act. Passed in May 2005 with a compliance deadline three years later, the law has never been implemented. The Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly threatened to deny air travel to people from the states refusing compliance, then backed down when states have not caved to its demands.

But state legislatures are one thing. State-level bureaucrats are quite another. And they are hedgehogging along, positioning their states to implement the national ID law.

Writes Alan Greenblatt in State Legislatures magazine:

In a number of states, motor vehicle departments are doing the behind-the-scenes work necessary to move closer to compliance, including updating computer systems, installing face-recognition software and setting up more secure card production rooms… . [E]very state is moving toward compliance. Even in the 14 states where legislatures have explicitly rejected REAL ID through laws or resolutions, some moves have been made in the direction of compliance.

Politicians come and go, but the bureaucrats are in it for life. And they can grow their portfolio be building a national ID.

Yes, Illegal Immigrants Are Influenced by ID Policies

It is a premise of national identification policy that requiring proof of lawful presence to get an ID, then requiring the use of that ID for many essential functions of life, would make it more difficult to be an illegal immigrant in the United States. The natural result of having a national ID and routine identity checks would be suppression of illegal immigration. The premise is undoubtedly true.

The question is how much influence it would have on illegal immigrants’ decision whether to come to, or remain in, this country. And how much it would cause illegal immigrants to take other steps, such as avoidance of ID checks?

A recent article in the Arizona Republic illustrates that leaving the country isn’t the obvious step for illegal immigrants faced with the lawful presence requirement. “Illegal Immigrants Flocking to 3 States to Obtain Identification” tells the story of how illegal immigrant Carlos Hernandez moved his family to Washington state after the passage of S.B. 1070 in Arizona. The story is illustrated with a picture of Hernandez watching his 2-year-old daughter play on a slide near their apartment in Burien, Washington.

“Hernandez said he knows other illegal immigrants who considered New Mexico because of the ease of getting a license. But he and others thought Washington would be safer.”

One inference from the story is that states with “weak” licensing requirements should tighten things up. But would Hernandez’ young daughter have better prospects if he moved the family to Puebla, Mexico, or would she be better off living in the United States with a father who acquired a false U.S. identification? In many cases, a family man like Hernandez will take the risk of acquiring and using false ID to provide his daughter the stable environment and opportunities the United States has to offer.

A national ID system, and background checks instituted for access to work, housing, and financial services, would suppress illegal immigration some, but it would also drive greater identity fraud and corruption.

The next question is how much inconvenience and tracking the natural-born and naturalized citizens of the country should suffer in order to achieve the marginal gains of presssuring illegal immigrants this way.

On balance, the gains are not worth the costs—especially when the “gains” include making life worse for Carlos Hernandez’ young daughter.

A Lame Duck, a National/Voter ID, and the Pun That Makes it All Worthwhile

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece this morning, John Fund speculates about a post-election, lame-duck strategy in which Democrats move a variety of controversial proposals before giving up power to November’s presumed victors. Among these proposals is “a federally mandated universal voter registration system to override state laws.”

The answer to that idea is No.

Part of the reason is because this proposal hasn’t seen any discussion or debate. Its benefits, costs, and consequences have had no public vetting.

Likely, a national voter ID system would also be a national ID system. Its utility in addressing whatever voter fraud there is would be matched or outstripped by its utility for controlling our access to health care, travel, guns, financial services, and every other thing that the federal government might like to regulate more thoroughly. That’s also part of why the answer is No.

I’m not too worried. Fund is interested in voter and election fraud, so he may be overweighting the likelihood of legislation to address it. And, as I said this morning in a broader WashingtonWatch.com blog post worth reading only for the pun, “Chances are that Fund is using the lame-duck speculation to goose (yuk yuk) his generally conservative readership, and that the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate aren’t thinking that far ahead yet.”

Ever Get the Feeling You’ve Been Cheated?

More than once I’ve come across reports in the immigration area that start from false premises. A good example is a report from the Smart Card Alliance titled “Securing Identity and Enabling Employment Verification: How Do Immigration Reform and Citizen Identification Align?”

In the second paragraph of the executive summary, the report states:  ”A robust system of identification and secure identification documents is a key requirement that needs to be addressed in the immigration reform debate.”

This premise is wrong. Reforming immigration law is what should be addressed in the immigration reform debate. Identity security, just like border control, will flow naturally from reforms to immigration law that create legal avenues for entry. There is no need to create a national ID.

You may disagree with my thinking on that, but can you present objective proof that I’m wrong? Some repeatable experiment showing to a high degree of certainty that identity systems must be a part of immigration reform? I suspect you’ll agree fair-mindedly that the proposition is subject to debate.

But the next paragraph says “This document limits itself to providing factual information to allow the reader to make educated and informed decisions.” Balderdash.

The “privacy” section of the report—less than a page of it—deals mostly with security, not the tougher problem of designing a system that allows law-abiding citizens to control personal information, both within the card system and in its likely uses.

The Smart Card Alliance, for sponsoring this report, and readers of it should ask themselves a searching question.