Reconsidering ID

I’ve always been reflexively opposed to the notion of a national ID card. Call it the civil libertarian in me, but such an identifier raises visions of police states past and privacy intrusions future. That said, I’ll admit this is not an issue I’ve really thought through–my distaste is more visceral than intellectual.

So I was grudgingly persuaded by Bill Keller’s column in this morning’s New York Times.  Keller’s point of departure was the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down most of the Arizona immigration law, but left intact the right of police to demand “papers” from people being detained for other reasons. As he pointedly asked, “What ‘papers’?” What sorts of identification do any of us carry that proves we are citizens? Wouldn’t employers and police officers be better served by the existence of a standard ID?

Keller acknowledges the privacy concerns.

 “The trick, and I won’t pretend it’s always easy, is to distinguish the reasonable and constructive from the invasive and excessive. We want the sales clerk at the Gap to know our credit card is good, but not to have access to our whole credit history. We want our doctors to share our health histories with one another, but probably not with our employers. We may or may not want retailers to know what kind of books we read, what kind of car we drive, where we are thinking of traveling. We may or may not want those who follow us on the Web to know our real-time location, or our real name.”

“This will not satisfy those who fear that any such mandate is potentially “a tool for social control,” as Chris Calabrese of the A.C.L.U. put it. But the only way to completely eliminate the risks of a connected world is to burn your documents, throw away your cellphone, cancel your Internet service and live off the grid.

As it happens, the proposal I described is already on the table. Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham included it in their menu for comprehensive immigration reform in 2010. For obvious reasons, they didn’t call it a national ID. They called it an “enhanced Social Security card.”

Like just about everything else, immigration reform is stuck in the mangle of election-year partisanship. And if Congress ever does revert to the business of solving problems, there should be many parts to a humane, sensible immigration bill — including expanded legal immigration and a path to citizenship for many of those already here. But a fraud-proof, limited-use national identification card is an essential part of the package.

Then the Arizona police can go back to doing their real jobs.”

I won’t say his argument entirely persuades me–but it’s undeniably logical, and worth more consideration than I have previously given the matter. Read the whole column, and see what you think.


  1. Since my husband was sworn in as a citizen 10 days ago and needing to ‘correct his name change,’ we’ve had to go to the bank, his employer’s HR office, the post office, the Driver’s License bureau, the social security office and the passport office to update all of his vital information. Why are we doing this the old fashioned way? A national ID card would streamline this process and give you a one-stop place to go when and if you ever change your name, change addresses and or change jobs. Women that take their husband’s names have been doing this for quite some time. In this technology age, the US needs to match other countries who had the vision to set this ID system up logically and make identification of its citizens easy and accurate. Like the health care debate, the US lags way behind in using tools that WORK.

  2. I don’t take my existing SSA card out of the lockbox. Whyever would I want to take out an “enhanced” version. Fraudsters must be salivating in their hidey holes over THAT prospect.

  3. My other half and I had the same conversation yesteday after seeing a Hispanic attorney and the Attorney General of Kansas (one of the authors of Arizona’s law) battle it out over racial profiling. I have privacy concerns, too, but there’s no perfect solution. Frankly (and this will freak out a lot of my civil libertarian colleagues) I’m not all that opposed to having a chip that can identify me if I’m in a coma on the street somewhere and forgot my wallet. Just so it doesn’t transmit more than a couple of feet!

  4. I was stopped once for J-Walking by a uniformed officer. He asked me for my drivers license so he could issue a ticket. I did not have my wallet therefore no drivers license or any other ID. Your logic would have me arrested. I think any requirement that I must carry any kind of “papers” is a big mistake. Would they have to be waterproof so I could carry them in swimming?

  5. In Indiana, at least, you do not HAVE to have ID. You are required to identify yourself to police, but I believe you only must give enough info to allow for identification (name, DOB, SSN… If I remember correct). Thats my objection to voter ID laws, I don’t understand how voting requirements are more stringent than any other requirement.

    And the line that renting a movie requires more falls on deaf ears with me, because how we interact with private entities is not relevant to government rules and regs (IMO, though I’m not an attorney, just an uber geek that enjoys following court cases).

  6. I am asked for ID, meaning my drivers license, to cash checks, use charge cards, get medical care, pick up some prescriptions, etc. Sadly, no one any longer asks for ID to prove I am over 55 for senior discount. I automatically provide my drivers license as ID each and every time I vote. What other identification proves without a doubt who we are? Anyone can carry someone else’s Social Security, AARP, charge cards, recent utility bills, and on and on. Why is there no established photo identification available in all states? Seems to me this photo ID requirement is asking for a non-existent document if none is available through legal channels. The requirement for photo ID in most cases means drivers license but there are millions in this country who do not drive, do not have a car so do not have a drivers license.

  7. I live in a country that requires that you have your cedula (ID) for most sensitive transactions – like check cashing, medical care, or enrolling your child in school, etc. You are not required to buy a 6 pack or rum – that is a a personal responsibility. You are required to carry your cedula when traveling or on the street after 9PM. Illegal immigration is a serious matter here and is not tolerated. Road blocks to check cedulas are common. Of course, you must have your cedula to vote.
    I do not hear any one complaining, even those who spend the night because they left their cedula home before they went out. You just have to follow the rules – no problem.

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