September 7, 2004
Washington politicians are once again seriously considering imposing a national identification card and it may well become law before the end of the 108th Congress. The much-hailed 9/11 Commission report [pdf] released in July recommends a federal identification card and, worse, a "larger network of screening points" inside the United States. Does this mean we are to have "screening points" inside our country where American citizens will be required to "show their papers" to government officials? It certainly sounds that way!
As I have written recently, the 9/11 Commission is nothing more than ex-government officials and lobbyists advising current government officials that we need more government for America to be safe. Yet it was that same government that failed so miserably on Sept. 11, 2001.
Congress has embraced the 9/11 Commission report uncritically since its release in July. Now Congress is rushing to write each 9/11 Commission recommendation into law before the November election. In the same way Congress rushed to pass the PATRIOT Act after the Sept. 11 attacks to be seen "doing something," it looks like Congress is about to make the same mistake again of rushing to pass liberty-destroying legislation without stopping to consider the consequences. Because it is so controversial, we may see legislation mandating a national identification card with biometric identifiers hidden in bills implementing 9/11 Commission recommendations. We have seen this technique used in the past on controversial measures.
A national identification card, in whatever form it may take, will allow the federal government to inappropriately monitor the movements and transactions of every American. History shows that governments inevitably use the power to monitor the actions of people in harmful ways. Claims that the government will protect the privacy of Americans when implementing a national identification card ring hollow. We would do well to remember what happened with the Social Security number. It was introduced with solemn restrictions on how it could be used, but it has become a de facto national identifier.
Those who are willing to allow the government to establish a Soviet-style internal passport system because they think it will make us safer are terribly mistaken. Subjecting every citizen to surveillance and "screening points" will actually make us less safe, not in the least because it will divert resources away from tracking and apprehending terrorists and deploy them against innocent Americans!
The federal government has no constitutional authority to require law-abiding Americans to present any form of identification before they engage in private transactions. Instead of forcing all Americans to prove to law enforcement that they are not terrorists, we should be focusing our resources on measures that really will make us safer. For starters, we should take a look at our dangerously porous and unguarded borders. We have seen already this summer how easy it is for individuals possibly seeking to do us harm to sneak across the border into our country. In July, Pakistani citizen Farida Goolam Mahomed Ahmed, who is on the federal watch list, reportedly crossed illegally into Texas from Mexico. She was later arrested when she tried to board a plane in New York, but she should have never been able to cross our border in the first place!
We must take effective measures to protect ourselves from a terrorist attack. That does not mean rushing to embrace legislation that in the long run will do little to stop terrorism, but will do a great deal to undermine the very way of life we should be protecting. Just as we must not allow terrorists to threaten our lives, we must not allow government to threaten our liberties. We should reject the notion of a national identification card.