Thank you for the opportunity to comment today on the idea of “improving the integrity of the Social Security card by making it as secure as the 100 dollar bill.” I am as opposed as I possibly could be to any measure that would move toward the establishment of a national i.d card in America. Make no mistake about it: H.R. 231 would do exactly that. I am aware that supporters of this idea argue vehemently that making the Social Security card fraud‐proof is not the same as establishing a national i.d. card. In fact, there is a section in Mr. McCollum’s bill H.R. 231 entitled “NOT A NATIONAL IDENTIFICATION CARD.”
Mr. Chairman there is a popular saying these days in politics that applies directly to this bill:
If it looks like a duck.
If it quacks like a duck.
If it walks like a duck.
It’s a duck.
Supporters of a new tamper‐proof Social Security card maintain that it is different from a national i.d. card in that no one would be required to carry the card around with them. Such assurances ring hollow given the recent history of immigration enforcement. With each passing law, privacy rights have been subjugated in the name of policing our borders. Twelve years ago when Congress enacted the employer sanctions laws, I and other critics, testified in this very room that the ill‐conceived notion of making employers the de facto deputized agents of the INS, would lead to discrimination against foreign‐looking and sounding U.S. citizens and authorized workers. We also argued that employer sanctions were the first step toward a national i.d. card system.
Members of this committee assured us that those predictions would never come to pass. They also pledged that if employer sanctions were proven to encourage discrimination against latinos or Asians then the law would be repealed. In 1990 the U.S. General Accounting Office documented a “serious pattern of discrimination” resulting from the employer sanctions law. Despite the evidence, the law has never been repealed.
Members of this Committee also denounced the suggestion that employer sanctions would ever lead to the establishment of a national i.d. card system or the implementation of any other technologies that would compromise the privacy rights of American citizens.
And yet here we are twelve years later debating this very issue. It is noteworthy that last year Congress adopted a “pilot project” for an insidious national computer registry system with the federal government centralizing work authorization data on every one of the 120 million Americans in the workforce. This system has become disparagingly known as: 1–800-BIG-BROTHER.
Surely, no one on this committee would deny that efforts to reduce illegal immigration have led to ever more draconian measures to keep out unauthorized workers. Consider the inglorious legacy of employer sanctions. They have failed in every way. Rep. McCollum conceded himself that “the employer sanctions law is not working.” It is worse than that; the law has done harm to many American citizens–particularly minorities. But rather than repeal a law that does not work, Congress continuously adopts more and more stringent steps to make it work.
Last year the computer registry system was adopted on a pilot project basis. It is almost a certainty that no matter how big a failure this new system proves to be, within ten years the registry will be applied to all workers and employers in the nation. I have worked in Washington for fifteen years mainly covering the federal budget, and I have never encountered a government program that didn’t work–no matter how overwhelming the evidence to the contrary.
The centralized computer registry system is dangerous enough. But to add to that a photo i.d. card issued to every citizen that matches up with the computer data base is to put in place the entire infrastructure of a national i.d. card system. All that is missing is the nomenclature. As someone once put it: this is as about as ill‐fated as giving a teenager a bottle a booze and keys to a motorcycle, but getting him to promise that he won’t drink and drive. You’re just asking for trouble.
Nearly all congressional supporters of the new Social Security card system say they are against a national i.d. card. The best way to protect against the establishment of a de jure national i.d. document system is to abandon the idea of converting the Social Security card into a de facto i.d. card.
The Social Security card was never meant to be used for identification purposes. When the system was created in 1935, to assuage the concerns of American citizens, Congress insisted that the card would never and should never be used for purposes of identification. Its sole purpose was to ensure that workers were paying the required payroll tax. Individual workers were assigned numbers so that the proper governing authority could easily account for the contributions made to the Social Security fund. Nonetheless, the use of the number grew steadily over the years. Starting in 1961, the Civil Service Commission began using the number to identify all federal employees. In 1962, the IRS started requiring the number to appear on all completed tax returns.
We have seen on many occasions over the past sixty years abuses of the Social Security system that were never envisioned when the system was created–just as abuses of the proposed i.d. card that we cannot now envision would almost certainly occur when expediency takes precedence over safeguards of privacy rights and civil liberties. In fact, privacy rights have already been eroded. The SSA disclosed Social Security numbers to the private sector until public outrage halted the activity in 1989. The disclosures affected more than three million Americans.
Earlier this year the Social Security Administration launched a web site, which allowed computer hackers internet access to individuals’ payroll and benefit records. All a snoop needed access to was an individual’s name, Social Security number, date and place of birth, and mother’s maiden name. As Senator Grassley noted in a letter to SSA requiring the web site to be suspended, the system was ripe for abuse “by everyone from nosy neighbors, to legal foes, to ex‐spouses seeking financial support.” The SSA’s track record in protecting privacy does not inspire confidence that privacy rights would be properly protected under the i.d. card system.
The Social Security number is by no means alone in this regard. Various programs which authorize the government to collect personal information about American citizens have gone so awry over the years that we ought to be reeling in the information that the government collects from us, not expanding its powers in this regard. Here are some historical and recent examples of abuse:
* The confidentiality of Census Bureau information was violated in World War II to help move Japanese‐Americans to internment camps.
* The FBI criminal history records system, which was designed for law enforcement purposes, is now used predominantly by non‐law enforcement agencies and private employers.
* The State of Ohio recently sold its drivers’ license and car registration lists to TRW, Inc. for $375,000. In a recent editorial, Business Week asked: “Who gave government agencies the right to cash in on information that people are forced to give them in the first place?”
* In early 1995 more than 500 Internal Revenue Service agents were caught illegally snooping into the tax records of thousands of Americans — often friends and celebrities. Only five of these employees were fired for this invasion of privacy.
* The IRS claimed that its new privacy protection measures would protect against this from happening again. But it did happen again in early 1997 with hundreds of IRS agents again illegally investigating the tax information of friends, foes, and celebrities.
Technology has played a vital role in advancing freedom around the world, especially in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. But it has also laid new temptations at the doorstep of government, suddenly afforded ways to micromanage people’s lives. Once the technology and database is in place for a national worker registry, new and at times urgent alternative purposes for the registry will doubtless arise. Those who favor big government will find many uses for a centralized computer database every time a new “national crisis” emerges: to help fight the war on drugs, to control the spread of disease, to combat terrorism, and so forth. Here are a few examples of policy ideas that have already been promoted in Washington for which a national i.d. card and a computer registry system could be put to use: