- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

Fred's Principle of Technological Inevitability states that what is both possible and convenient will soon be done. Which brings us to national identity cards.
Sez me, there's no way on Earth that we won't have them before long. It won't happen for nefarious reasons, which is why it will happen. Nefariousness would alarm people. Convenience won't.
In a previous life as a police reporter, I'd ride with a cop stopping a car in, say, the Virginia suburbs.He, or more correctly the dispatcher, would routinely run the stoppee's driver's license against the records of the departments of motor vehicles in Virginia, Washington and Maryland.I remember thinking, what if all the states were tied into this network?Bingo, everyone's driver's license would instantly be a national ID card.Technically, it would be easy.
In Technology Review for April, I find the following: "Now the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, a kind of trade organization for the state motor vehicle registries, wants to make things official.This past January the association asked Congress for $100 million to link all of the state motor vehicle databases. The likelihood, says Tech Review, is that new licenses would carry all manner of biometric info fingerprints in digital form, for example.
The impetus is not a desire to institute a watchful totalitarian state that will track us through every second of our lives. County police don't do totalitarianism. They just want, for example,to catch the drunk with the suspended license who has a phony license from another state. Owners of taverns want to avoid losing their liquor licenses by serving college students with phony licenses.A thousand reasons, none of them evil, exist for having positive identification of everybody.
But then, whether you want it or not, you have the machinery of a totalitarian state.Whether it would be so used is another question.But it would be there. The advance of technology makes it close to inevitable.
The databases largely exist now.Visa and MasterCard keep extensive records of what your card bought, where, and exactly when.Your signature assures that it was you who used it.There is no evil intent here at all.Customs slides your passport through a reader when you enter the country. The passport verifies that you have a right to enter.Scanning creates, or can create, a record of when you entered.This is a different thing but the intent isn't evil. The intent is never evil. On and on it goes, database after database.
And surveillance is getting much easier. In, say, 1950, the technology didn't allow government to watch very many people very closely even if it wanted to. A cop in Virginia could verify a California driver's license only by making difficult telephone calls from headquarters, which just wasn't practical for routine surveillance.Reading mail required lots of man-hours and expertise, and you would probably get caught.Paper records across the country were for practical purposes inaccessible except locally.
Not now.
"Easy" is the key word here.If DMV records for the states are linked, a cop will use the computer in his car to check the license in a few seconds.Vast amounts of e-mail can be automatically scanned in real-time without the recipient's being aware of it. Reasons, pretexts and excuses for doing these things abound preventing terrorism, for example.
It is probably possible to identify people positively, with almost no error, using biometrics computer-read fingerprints, retina scans and such like. That is, you would show up at the airline's ticket counter, put your fingers on a glass plate, and look briefly into a retina scanner.The company's central computer would say, Yep, Sally Jones, she's ticketed on this flight to Bangkok. No paper ticket. The technology to do this exists and is used now, here and there, in bits and pieces.
You want to buy groceries at Safeway? Same thing. The central computer verifies that you are you, and have a Visa account. You wouldn't need a physical card. Cop stops you? Same thing. You wouldn't need a physical license, only a record in DMV's computer. Linked, of course, to criminal records.
At which point life would be no end convenient, and just extremely watched. With no evil intent.
This, or something like this, will happen because it is so very easy (a) to create records automatically, (b) to store huge amounts of data, (c) to link databases and (d) to access the records.The technology is here, it's good and it's getting better fast.


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