Judging by the various e-mails and posted comments I received concerning the earlier post
about the prospect of national ID cards, there is obviously some interest in it and a lot of disagreement with my premise. That's fine... healthy debate is A Good Thing. In the interest of giving fair treatment to all sides of the argument, I'll share a few of the incoming thoughts.
"As someone who grew up in a country with mandatory ID cards I can tell you that there is a much more sinister problem with that scheme... And voila, you have created a national citizen register. With the known lack of protection of personal data in the US every last detail of your life will become a matter of public record."
"While you point out positive things that could result, you also open the door to an Orwellian society. Having the government know that much about everyone at all times is a path to destruction for personal liberties."
"I really don't see how a national ID makes us safer."
"John Ashcroft. The potential for abuse is there and if there is the potential men like Ashcroft will abuse it."
"where there's power to be abused, someone will abuse it. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and so on..."
"This is simply another step toward totalitarian regulation of a free people, if you can call us "free" in a time when our Justice Department has virtual carte blanche in its treatment of the innocent and guilty alike."
"Oh, yeah, I can see how this would make smaller government that interferes less. Not."
I'll confess. That last one hurt a bit, coming from The One True Tami, but my easily bruised ego will recover, I assure you. We'll get to her argument in a moment, and in the meanwhile you can read the full explanation of why she thinks I'm a babbling moron here
. As to the other comments, I see a recurring theme. Orwellian societies, abuse of power, totalitarian regulation, a "national citizen register."
I'm not the type of debater who will pretend blindness and say, "How can you say that?" Obviously there is a lot of concern in the country about those issues, and twenty years ago I would have agreed with you completely. If you give the government access to that sort of information they could get up to all manner of highjinks. Why, just for a hypothetical example, they might do things like, oh... I don't know... gathering the names of known former political protesters and harass them about going to the GOP convention in New York. Or collecting names of black activists who conduct get out the vote drives in Florida and go to their homes to intimidate them and...
Ooops. Seems they're already doing that. I'm just as uncomfortable as you with the idea of the government having that sort of access. My point, as I said in the first entry, was that they already have it
. If you have ever gotten a drivers license, insurance, a job where you paid taxes, or more examples than I could name, your information is already out there for the government to cherry pick as they choose. Several people commented that they could see the advantages for effective law enforcement, reduction in false arrests, and greater security from such a system. I offer in return that the perceived loss of privacy you fear from this national citizen's register has already long since happened. The bad result is already upon us. Why not take advantage of the good that could come from it?
This also ties in to my question of "who are we trying to protect here?" The watchdogs we have in place in our technologically oriented society have gotten better and better at shining a bright light at government cockroaches when they abuse information like this. Otherwise we wouldn't know about the scandals I mentioned above. But when information like this is available in a shared database to state police and federal authorities, law enforcement against actual criminals can be faster, cheaper, and more effective.
That last bit brings us to Tami's complaint - namely that it won't do anything to help reduce the size of government and lessen interference. I disagree. In the long run, (and it would be relatively quick at that) such a system could help reduce the need for federal government interference in criminal investigation. Something like this could vastly empower police at the state level and increase their effectiveness. The need for intervention by the FBI, NSA, etc. for domestic cases (as opposed to crimes committed on U.S. soil by foreigners) could be drastically reduced.
Let's say you are Linda the Lesbian. You've just left the Rainbow Coallition rally in the middle of downtown and are walking home proudly sporting your pink triangle pin affixed to your "Two good moms are better than one bad dad" t-shirt. Suddenly, a large menacing individual steps out from a car parked at the curb wearing a ski mask and begins to beat the holy living hell out of you while shouting endearing terms like, "Dyke! Commie! Godless Vermin!" When he's done he jumps back in the car and screeches off into the night.
With the blood streaming into your eyes you are unable to get the license number, but you know it's an in-state plate and you're able to pull out your cell phone and call 9-1-1. The police and the CSI team arrive quickly to help you. They get a fingerprint off of your purse and find some skin on your watch where the attacker scratched himself. Unfortunately, back at the lab, there are no hits on the fingerprints and the D.N.A. doesn't match any known offenders. The police begin an investigation, interviewing people in the neighborhood, getting a sketch artist to take a description from you, all the usual work. Will they catch him? Maybe. You can never underestimate the value of good detective work and shoe leather. But maybe not.
In the future with this national register, however, the police immediately get a hit that the guy was Bob Hutchington from Bayou Falls, Louisiana. Bob has a local history down there of beating up gays with his brothers Billy Bob and Bobby Ray. Nothing big... just a local record. Plus, Bob just purchased a ticket at the airport to fly back to the Big Easy. Police head over there and grab him at the boarding area.
Have we violated Bob's rights somehow? I don't think so. And let's face it, we really didn't like Bob anyway. The case might have gotten even worse for Jim Duncan. He's a local guy with a big build like Bob who has a record of causing trouble at gay rights parades. He had no alibi for where he was at the time and winds up sitting in jail as the police investigate everything about him while Bob goes back to work at the fish canning factory in La. We didn't like Jim either, but he wasn't the guy who beat you up and doesn't deserve to be in jail in this case.
The bottom line is, this could be an incredible tool to make people safer. And what you think you are giving up in return was taken away from you long ago.