Topic: Telecom, Internet & Information Policy

WaPo: Let’s Have a National Identity System

There can be no denying the link between the E-Verify system prominent in discussions of immigration reform and the policy of having a national identification system. The Washington Post editorialized about it this past weekend, saying “a universal national identity card” must be part of “any sensible overhaul of the nation’s immigration system.”

I’ve written about it many times, as I certainly will in the future. Today, though, I’ll commend to you a well-written piece by David Bier on the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s “Open Market” blog. In “The New National Identification System Is Coming,” Bier writes:

“Maybe we should just brand all the babies.” With this joke, Ronald Reagan swatted down a national identification card — or an enhanced Social Security card — proposed by his attorney general in 1981. For more than three decades since, attempts to implement the proposal have all met with failure, but now national ID is back, and it’s worse than ever.

Read the whole thing.

The irony is that appropriate immigration reforms—those that align the law with our country’s need for immigrant workers—could dispense entirely with “internal enforcement,” national employment surveillance, and deputization of businesses as immigration agents.

“We’re Going to Have to Come Up with Something.”

And that something is a national ID.

The quote is Senator Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY), speaking about immigration reform at Politico’s Playbook Breakfast. The national ID gloss is mine, based on the immutable logic of “internal enforcement.”

Senators Schumer and McCain (R-AZ) say that the “Gang of Eight” senators who are working up an immigration reform package are united on the idea of making it impossible for illegal immigrants to get work in the United States. The only way to do that is to put all working Americans—if you work, that means you—into a national ID system.

“People say, ‘National ID card,’” Senator Schumer says. They do because that is what he’s talking about.

Now, they haven’t gotten all the way through the logic of their plans. Senator Schumer talks about a “non-forgeable [Social Security] card,” but a Social Security card only proves that a certain name is linked to a certain number. If a system is going to prove that a given person is entitled to work in the United States, it must be an identity system. It must compare the identifiers of the person to the identifiers in the system, whether held on a card or in a database, so that it can assess their legal status, including natural-born citizenship.

This is why Senator Schumer also talks about biometrics. The system must biometrically identity everyone who works—you, me, and every working American you know. There is no way to do internal enforcement of immigration law without a biometric national identity system.

It looks as though E-Verify, an incipient national ID system, will be a part of most or all comprehensive immigration reform proposals. Ironically, immigration reform that aligns the law with our country’s economic need for labor would obviate the need for E-Verify and a national ID. 

There are lots of ways to become familiar with the national ID issues that have yet to bubble up in this early stage of the immigration reform debate. My 2006 book, Identity Crisis, is a decent primer on identity and national ID generally. I examined the direct line between internal enforcement of immigration law and a national ID in my 2008 paper: “Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification: Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.” And my article in last year’s special Cato Journal on immigration reform was called: “Internal Enforcement, E-Verify, and the Road to a National ID.”

Milton Friedman on Business’s ‘Suicidal Impulse’

In a Wall Street Journal column titled “Silicon Valley’s ‘Suicide Impulse’” (Google the title if you can’t access it), Gordon Crovitz cites Milton Friedman’s speech to a Cato Institute conference in Silicon Valley in 1999:

In 1999, economist Milton Friedman issued a warning to technology executives at a Cato Institute conference: “Is it really in the self-interest of Silicon Valley to set the government on Microsoft? Your industry, the computer industry, moves so much more rapidly than the legal process that by the time this suit is over, who knows what the shape of the industry will be? Never mind the fact that the human energy and the money that will be spent in hiring my fellow economists, as well as in other ways, would be much more productively employed in improving your products. It’s a waste!”

He predicted: “You will rue the day when you called in the government. From now on, the computer industry, which has been very fortunate in that it has been relatively free of government intrusion, will experience a continuous increase in government regulation. Antitrust very quickly becomes regulation. Here again is a case that seems to me to illustrate the suicide impulse of the business community.”

You can find the full text of Friedman’s talk here.

For more on business’s suicidal impulses, see “Why Silicon Valley Should Not Normalize Relations With Washington, D.C.” by entrepreneur T. J. Rodgers; “The Sad State of Cyber-Politics” by Adam Thierer; and my own “Apple: Too Big Not to Nail.”

Very Good, House—Keep it Comin’

Yesterday, I shared my doubts about the prospect of getting budget and organizational data from the White House. Today, I’m happy to report genuine progress on open data from Congress.

The Government Printing Office announced today that it will be making House bills available in XML format and in bulk through FDsys, GPO’s Federal Digital System. House bills now join other material on GPO’s bulk data page.

If you’re like me, following that link gives you some idea of what’s there, but clicking through any further gives you no idea how to use it any more than other copies of bills. That’s OK, because the kids with the computers do know how to use it. And they can take well structured, timely data reflecting the proposals in Congress and turn it into various information services, applications, and web sites that make all of us better aware of what’s happening.

I believe the public has an Internet-fueled expectation that they should understand what happens in Congress. It’s one explanation for rock-bottom esteem for government in opinion polls. Access to good data would help produce better public understanding of what goes on in Washington and also, I believe, more felicitous policy outcomes—not only reduced demand for government, but better administered government in the areas the public wants it. (If you’re a reader of a certain partisan bent, you might appreciate the idea that the era of passing bills to find out what’s in them will end.)

Upon the release of my Cato Policy Analysis, “Grading the Government’s Data Publication Practices” I characterized President Obama as lagging House Republicans in terms of transparency. Today’s development helps solidify Republicans’ small lead. The GPO release says the initiative comes “[a]t the direction of the House Appropriations Committee, and in support of the task force on bulk data established by House report 112-511.”

The administration has plenty of capacity to retake the lead, of course, and could do so quite easily. I’ll call it like I see it, doing my best to reflect consensus among the transparency community as to the quality of data publication, when we return to grading the data produced by various organs of government in another year or so.

Did you think this praise would come without garnish? It’s like you don’t know me at all.

Open Data: Good, Not Yet Great

The White House is close to issuing a new policy requiring agencies to release data in open, machine-readable formats. That’s good.

Great would be the White House itself publishing machine-readable, open data when it issues the president’s budget in February. Along with the plan for fiscal year 2014 spending, why couldn’t we get the code that distinctly identifies each agency, bureau, program, and project—in essence, the organization of the U.S. federal government?

I find it continually amazing that there is still no machine-readable government organization chart. It’s the trellis on which endless forms of computer-aided oversight (internal and external) could grow.

Opening federal data to public uses is good, but the data that reflects government deliberations, management, and results is what really matters for transparency. I shared my thinking on all this in my recent Cato Policy Analysis, “Grading the Government’s Data Publication Practices.”

REAL ID—A Quarter of a Billion Dollars Gone

In an effort to show progress with implementation of our national ID law, the Department of Homeland Security issued a press release just ahead of Christmas reporting that thirteen states had “met the standards of the REAL ID Act of 2005.” Their compliance is not actually compliance, though. Read on…

Next Tuesday, another ‘deadline’ for REAL ID compliance arrives. Due to widespread public opposition, the majority of states and their people are not complying with the national ID mandate. Many states “have not provided sufficient information, at this time,” the DHS release says. I think that’s bureaucratese for: “They’re ignoring REAL ID.” But it doesn’t matter. The states ignoring REAL ID have been granted deferments. I’ve been looking for the Federal Register notice making this deadline extension official so I can put it next to the deadline extension from March 9, 2007, and the one from January 29, 2008, and the one from December 28, 2009, and the one from March 7, 2011.

The states that have tripped over themselves to follow this federal mandate should feel slightly burned. They’re no better off than the states that did nothing. And states need never comply.

We all know by know that the federal government will never use the lever that REAL ID gave them to “force” compliance on the states. The law says that the federal government can refuse IDs from states that aren’t in compliance. Basically, that means TSA would send most American travelers to secondary search. But that means that the federal government—not the states—would be blamed for travel nightmares (even worse than we already experience) all over the country. Deadline extension after deadline extension after deferment make clear that the federal government is not going to hold up air travelers because of REAL ID.

Now, the states that DHS says are complying aren’t really complying. You see, DHS long ago retreated from the requirements of REAL ID and established a set of “material compliance benchmarks.” These are 18 steps that bring one closer to REAL ID compliance, but they are not REAL ID compliance. And many of them are things that states were doing anyway. So, to the extent DHS is trumpeting progress, it’s a rooster taking credit for the sunrise.

Nonetheless, REAL ID ‘progress’ is the stitching together of a system to track and control us through our nationally uniform identity cards. It’s the system that will be used to control our access to work, to housing, to medical care and medicine, to guns, to credit and financial services, and much more. Big government, thy administrative tool is national ID.

The DHS release is a little more muted about the $263 million dollars it has spent or distributed on REAL ID so far—a quarter of a billion dollars toward a national ID system nobody wants. The continued spending is probably what keeps a small coterie of DMV bureaucrats and allied groups pushing for a national ID.

These national ID advocates will be well-represented at a Heritage Foundation event on REAL ID January 28th. Heritage is bringing in a Department of Motor Vehicle bureaucrat from Connecticut, a representative of a small national ID advocacy group, and the co-author of a recent Government Accountability Office update on REAL ID. I’ll hope to learn—as I’ve never been able to do before—how the national ID program would increase our security more than it would cost us in dollars and privacy—a quarter billion dollars, so far, and still counting.

This Month’s Cato Unbound: Opportunities for Copyright Reform

Republican Study Committee staffer Derek Khanna made a splash in November when he authored a memo recommending simplification of our copyright system and a significant reduction in its term lengths.

His ideas didn’t sit too well with some folks, apparently, because the RSC removed the memo from its website and let him go.

Well. We kinda liked that memo, so we invited him to discuss its contents at Cato Unbound. He has just done so in this month’s lead essay.

Cato adjunct scholar Timothy B. Lee has written a thoughtful response detailing the dangers of civil asset forfeiture in copyright cases. And two more replies will be out in the next few days – one by Ryan Radia of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and one by Mark Schultz of Southern Illinois University School of Law. Each will discuss practical, near-term ways to improve copyright policy, an area of ever-increasing commercial and legal importance.

As always, Cato Unbound readers are encouraged to take up our themes, and enter into the conversation on their own websites and blogs, or on other venues. We also welcome your letters. Send them to jkuznicki at cato dot org. Selections may be published at the editors’ option.