July 10, 2006 12:22PM

UK National ID in Collapse — U.S. National ID to Follow?

The Sunday Times (U.K.) reports that “Tony Blair’s flagship identity cards scheme is set to fail and may not be introduced for a generation.” The Times cites leaked e‐​mails reflecting senior officials’ belief that the plan to subject the U.K. population to the regimentation of a national ID system is falling apart. Even a backup, scaled‐​down national ID card isn’t “remotely feasible,” according to the e‐​mails cited by the report. Ministers who are pressing ahead with the plan are “ignoring reality.”

Similar e‐​mails may well be floating around the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which will be issuing regulations to flesh out the REAL ID Act this summer this fall after November 7th. (No bureaucrat with an ounce of political acumen would drop a $9‐​billion‐​dollar unfunded surveillance‐​mandate before the mid‐​term election.)

This is not bad news. A national ID system is useful for controlling a law‐​abiding population, but not useful for securing against law‐​breakers, particularly committed threats like terrorists — unless it is part of a total surveillance system.

The failure to implement a national ID system in the U.S. would represent little loss to the nation in terms of security, and a substantial gain in terms of preserved freedom and autonomy. All this is discussed in my new book, Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood.

Unlike the U.K., where a national ID is apparently a project identified with Tony Blair, the Bush Administration does not have to look for a face‐​saving alternative. The U.S. national ID was not a Bush Administration project, but something it accepted in a political bargain. The Administration can now (rightly) declare it impossible to implement and inconsistent with American values, then work with Congress to repeal the REAL ID Act.