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Identity Crisis

How Identification Is Overused and Misunderstood

Identity Crisis is available in stores and online, wherever books are sold.
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The advance of identification technology—biometrics, identity cards, surveillance, databases, dossiers—threatens privacy, civil liberties, and related human interests. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, demands for identification in the name of security have increased. In this insightful book, Jim Harper takes readers inside identification—a process everyone uses every day but few people have ever thought about. Using stories and examples from movies, television, and classic literature, Harper dissects identification processes and technologies, showing how identification works when it works and how it fails when it fails. Harper exposes the myth that identification can protect against future terrorist attacks.

He shows that a U.S. national identification card, created by Congress in the REAL ID Act, is a poor way to secure the country or its citizens. A national ID represents a transfer of power from individuals to institutions, and that transfer threatens liberty, enables identity fraud, and subjects people to unwanted surveillance. Instead of a uniform, government‐​controlled identification system, Harper calls for a competitive, responsive identification and credentialing industry that meets the mix of consumer demands for privacy, security, anonymity, and accountability.

Identification should be a risk‐​reducing strategy in a social system, Harper concludes, not a rivet to pin humans to governmental or economic machinery.

About the Author

As director of information policy studies, Jim Harper focuses on the difficult problems of adapting law and policy to the unique problems of the information age. Harper is a member of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee. His work has been cited by USA Today, the Associated Press, and Reuters. He has appeared on Fox News Channel, CBS, and MSNBC, and other media. His scholarly articles have appeared in the Administrative Law Review, the Minnesota Law Review, and the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly. Harper is the editor of Pri​vac​il​la​.org, a Web‐​based think tank devoted exclusively to privacy, and he maintains online federal spending resource Wash​ing​ton​Watch​.com. He holds a J.D. from Hastings College of the Law.

What Others Have Said

“To protect against terrorism, we have to stop individuals before they act. Identity Crisis does the best job I’ve seen of addressing the real weaknesses in current identification systems and how they correlate directly with further impingements on our privacy and civil liberties. I would have used this book every day to help structure programs and develop policies if I’d had it at TSA.”
—Justin Oberman, former head of credentialing and identity programs, Transportation Security Administration

“In this thoughtful and informative book, Jim Harper argues that privacy and security can best be achieved by resisting the relentless demands for technologies of global identification, which threaten privacy without increasing security. Instead, Harper argues for technologies of authorization that allow individuals to decide how much of themselves to reveal. A valuable contribution to a polarized debate in which out‐​of‐​the‐​box thinking is all too rare.”
—Jeffrey Rosen, author of The Unwanted Gaze and The Naked Crowd

“Few people in America have done the kind of critical thinking about identity and identification that Jim Harper does in this book. An understanding of identity management and policy is essential—not only to leaders in government, but those in the commercial sector as well.”
—Nuala O’Connor Kelly, chief privacy leader, GE, and former chief privacy officer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

“For years now we’ve been hearing about the promise—and the threat—of databases, biometrics, smart cards, and other information technology breakthroughs. Finally, someone has cut through all the jargon, the techno‐​babble, and the right‐​left rhetoric and looked at it all with common sense and a clear eye. Jim Harper has produced a thoughtful, fast‐​paced, enjoyable tour through this brave new world that will become the source book for the ongoing debate.”
—Steven Brill, CEO of Verified Identity Pass and author of After: How America Confronted the September 12 Era

“Harper’s book does an excellent job of laying the groundwork and clearly defining the different types of identification and the roles that they play in everyday societal interactions. He provides interesting historical context on the evolution of identification, and writes in an engaging style.”
—Christian Beckner, Homeland Security Watch

“Harper generally succeeds at the task he set himself: identification theory and principles. The book is readable and covers the basics. He argues that we all need a better understanding of what we are doing when we rely on identification. Harper would say that we need a serious discussion of how to handle identification issues. The book is a good starting point for that debate.”
—Robert Gellman, DM News