- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2001

People in a state of panic can be cajoled into doing or accepting things that they might otherwise think twice about under normal circumstances. Just last week, it was announced that the idea of a mandatory national ID card has been revived. This "smart" card would be embedded with a computer chip and/or biometric "tags," such as fingerprints or retinal scans. The card is being actively pursued by state motor vehicle authorities under the auspices of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the umbrella organization that ties all the various state-level DMVs together .

Naturally, t's all being done for the purest of motives. The state DMV bureaucrats assure us that, in the first place, we already have a de facto national ID card in the form of our current driver's licenses. These, however, do not currently tie into a central registry. Nor do they utilize biometrics. That's enough to distinguish them from national ID card for most folks. We are told furthermore that a national ID is imperative if we are to prevent foreigners from slipping into the country and perpetrating their dirty deeds.

Prior to the attacks of September 11, every public opinion poll revealed solid opposition to the idea of a national ID. Last week, however, The Washington Post reported that 70 percent of those surveyed now favor the idea. And the rapid advance of technology has made a national smart card eminently practical. All your personal and financial information can easily be stored on that one card a card you would be required to carry with you and produce when demanded.

If enough inertia and residual fear take hold of the population, we'll reach that point faster than you can say "Nineteen Eighty-Four." Perhaps George Orwell wasn't wrong, he was just off by about 20 years. In 1948, when Orwell wrote the book, it was creepy, but not feasible from a technological standpoint. The book is much creepier today because it is feasible.

Robert Gellman, a Washington privacy expert, was quoted in The Post asking: "It will be easier for companies and government to track people. The question is, do we want that?" Not if we're smart. Making things more difficult for the likes of Osama bin Laden should not mean granting government comprehensive right-of-way over, across and through our lives. The potential for abuse is simply too great and our freedoms too dear to surrender so easily.


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