EDITORIAL: Something from George Orwell

The government wants to keep all your secrets on an I.D. card

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Sometimes the best defense against the Orwellian schemes of the government is the government’s own incompetence. Federal bureaucrats want nothing more than a national database containing “biometric” information on the entire adult population. It’s a long-sought dream slowly becoming real, one step at a time, beginning with employees in the transportation industry.

As a feasibility test, the Department of Homeland Security set up a new form of “secure” credential for individuals who work at the nation’s maritime facilities. At first, the new I.D. cards would be displayed to security guards in a conventional fashion, but the push was on to make them machine-readable so that human judgment can be taken out of the equation. The good news is that so far the idea has been a bust.

The Government Accountability Office reported last week that the pilot project’s cards generally did not work properly, if at all. Over 10 years, $400 million in taxpayer cash has been dumped into this venture, and everyone with one of these useless cards will need a new one.

The department requires that biometric identifiers such as fingerprints or voice patterns be stored on the card, to verify that the card holder is who he claims to be. It sounds good in theory, but the matching frequently fails, and the cards have to be processed manually, defeating the purpose of a machine-based system.

David Kravets of Wired magazine discovered that this biometric national identification-card scheme is a dream that won’t die. The Senate draft immigration bill orders the Department of Homeland Security to create a “photo tool” that would enable “employers to match the photo on a covered identity document,” such as a passport, driver’s license or other identification against “a photo maintained by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service database.”

Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Competitive Enterprise Institute express concerns about the “photo tool database” becoming a national identification system to keep tabs on American citizens who aren’t doing anything wrong — and what they are doing is none of the government’s business.

Going to extremes won’t make the country more secure. Eight of the Sept. 11 hijackers held valid Virginia driver’s licenses obtained by fraudulently getting residency documents. Creating the most secure, most tamper-proof cards in the world would have done nothing to thwart them. Instead, the cards would create a false sense of security that any terrorist could foil with a bribe to someone at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Department of Defense has been securing its networks with a two-factor authentication system that relies on information stored on the card along with a password known to the cardholder. It’s a successful system that demonstrates a better understanding of security than the blind faith in biometrics.

The Washington Times

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