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.