In light of California governor Gray Davis’ ill-informed, vote pandering decision (the GOP is predictably livid) on Sept. 5 to sign into law a bill making it easier for “illegal” immigrants to obtain “legal” drivers licenses, ones, I hasten to add that by virtual of Constitutional proclamation (Article 4, Section 1) would have to recognized in all fifty states, I once again examine the issue of a national ID card:
There can be no denying that since the September 11, 2001 attacks America has changed in ways we never would have imagined on September 10, 2001. Before September 11th, an attack on U.S. soil in which thousands of innocent people lost their lives in 30 minutes of stupefying evil was unthinkable to most Americans; it simply was not on our collective to-do lists. And yet life hasn’t changed in America in some very important and costly respects. We still as society cling to the notion that we can have safety without giving up even a modicum of personal privacy or freedom.
I have read about and listened with consternation to the debates swirling around even the suggestion of a national identification card. For the record I see nothing wrong with a national I.D. card, one which has embossed upon its surface a picture of each citizen and embedded in its plastic sheathing a microchip with your current address, phone number, date of birth, blood type, driver’s license number, SSN, and any police record(s). In other words nothing that is not already a matter of public record! All of this information would be part of a federal database and could be used by law enforcement officials to spot-check the collective identity. The card would be the size of a driver’s license and clearly state that it was a Federal I.D. card. Measures would be taken to ensure that the card could not be counterfeited in much the same was our currency and military ID cards are now protected.
Much of the negative debate surrounding this issued has centered on issues of privacy and the right to be anonymous, to blend into the crowd, to go un-noticed by the various state and federal authorities. But haven’t we as a society already given up much of we seek to protect? Every baby born in the U.S. is now issued a Social Security Number before (s)he leaves the hospital; in order to dive a car you have to have a drivers license, with your picture, current name, address, birth-date, sex, and physical characteristics emblazoned across the front and or back; colleges and universities issue student I.D.’s with the students picture on the front; and many companies require some sort of picture I.D. Credit card companies and other financial institutions routinely collect various types of personal information from us, and insurance companies delve into our personal medical histories with (and without) our consent. And yet we readily accept these intrusions into our lives, why, because it benefits us directly. Since when has public safety not been in our collective interests’?
For the record, there is no constitutionally guaranteed right to anonymity, nor is there a stated right to privacy. Nowhere in the Bill of Rights, or the other Amendments to the federal constitution, does it say that Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the citizen to remain anonymous, nor shall Congress institute any law, which encroaches upon the citizen’s right to privacy. In the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court implied the right to privacy citing historical court precedent and the 14th Amendments guarantee to due process under law. However, constitutional scholars still debates the merits of the Courts decision, and point out again that nowhere in the Constitution does it state that the citizenry have a right to privacy!
I personally believe that every citizen has a right to privacy within the confines of his or her home, or other private dwelling. That “right” erodes sharply once a citizen enters into the public domain, wherein he/she interacts with other citizens. In this domain, the public domain, the overall safety of society must outweigh—to a very real degree—the right of the citizen to privacy and anonymity. If this means that we have to carry national identification cards in order to differentiate between U.S. and non-U.S. citizens, then so be it. Will the card in-and-of itself make the U.S. a safer country? Of course not, but it could be part of a whole range of steps we can take to ensure our national safety. Am I afraid the government will misuse the information gathered? No, not really, not any more than it already does, or has. Do state governments routinely misuse the information it gathers on its citizens as part of the many drivers’ license programs? I have yet to hear, or read about any wide spread abuse. Has the federal government used to evil ends, the vast amounts of personal information it stores in its various databases on every service member and veteran that is servicing or has served in the U.S. Armed Forces? I don’t think so. I have been retired from the Navy since 1995 and a have heard nary a peep from the government; they have not come knocking at my door, nor have they intercepted my mail, or in anyway interfered with my comings and goings from the country.
To me a national identification card is a small price to pay for putting into place another small piece of the home security puzzle. Perhaps instead of fighting the proposal, the civil libertarians could form a partnership with the government and come up with a system that protects the citizenry without compromising those rights we as a nation have come to embrace.