NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

National Identification Cards?

December 12, 2001

Post-September 11 polls show two-thirds of Americans support implementation of a national Identification Card to enhance domestic security.

  • The ID card would contain a "unique identifier," such as a fingerprint or retinal identifier that could be read by a scanner linked to government databases so the person could be checked against the files of agencies such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service and law enforcement agencies.
  • The cost of such a system is unknown, but the Social Security Administration has estimated that creating counterfeit-resistant Social Security cards would cost $4 billion, and simple data-storage cards now cost $10-$35 a person.
  • About 100 countries already have mandatory national ID cards.

Proponents point out that we already require presentation of driver's licenses to cash checks, get a post office box, board an airplane, buy alcohol, register to vote in some states, enroll in college or drive.

Opponents say an ID card would violate privacy rights.

  • Once people have such a card, they may be required to present it in order to do all sorts of things, including apply for a job, buy a gun or open a bank account.
  • Even if the government did not voluntarily distribute information linked to the card, government employees would have access and might deliberately or accidentally release it.
  • Government agencies, employers, banks, insurance and health care companies and consumer businesses might want more information added to the cards.
  • And if the card is lost or stolen, a person might be unable to travel freely, and potentially not be able to do all sorts of everyday tasks.

Taking a step in this direction, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators is already developing a plan to create a national identification system that would link all driver databases throughout the country and use a card that has a unique identifier.

Source: "National ID Card FAQ," December 7, 2001, Century Foundation.


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