There are legitimate needs in today’s world to establish that I am who I say I am, and that no one else be able to claim to be me. There must be some way to accomplish that, but the Real ID Act is certainly not the way to do it. But if Libertarians are to be taken seriously on the issue, we need to offer a means to accomplish the good without imposing the bad. So, lets look at the needs and the methods for meeting them without establishing a system for tracking and spying on private citizens who are not criminals. The needs, as I see them, along with possible solutions are:
- Absolute Certainty of Identity – It is desirable that when I board an airplane,that the airline, which is responsible for my safety, know that I am who I say I am, and that my fellow passengers are who they claim to be. It is not necessary that the government know when and where I travel, nor is it necessary that the airline maintain a record of that travel after the airplane has arrived safely at its destination. The Airline, would be justified in refusing transport to anyone who will not disclose his true identity, or to impose additional search and security requirements for those who insist on traveling anonymously.Likewise, when a purchase is made in my name, health care is required and I am unable to provide my history, or a vote is cast, it is desirable that an absolute guarantee of identity is available to the seller, the health care facility and the voting officials securing the election from fraud. But it is not necessary, nor desirable, for government to know what I buy, or where or when, nor what health care I might require. The voting officials need to know I am who I say I am, but they have no need to know where I have traveled, what I have bought, nor the status of my prostate.
- A Unique Identifier – When I google my name, there are a lot of William Donald Tabor’s out there. Not to mention the Dons, Donalds, Bills, and other alias and variants. And I’m not even a John Smith or a Mohamed Hussein, which number in the tens of millions. So, a name alone is not sufficient to the need. Whether it is social security number, Driver’s License Number, or some other identifier beyond just a name is required. This is not so difficult to accomplish, my credit card has a sixteen digit number and Mastercard is quite capable of handling my purchases without the assistance of the NSA.
- Resistance to Counterfeiting – Any technology on a card can be defeated, or the card can be stolen, so biometric comparisons will be necessary to establish that the person presenting the card is, in fact, the owner of the card. Technology can reliably express biometric identifers such as finger prints, iris prints and facial landmarks as computer data, but there is no point in putting this information on the card itself. Only a machine readble number is needed. The biometric information is better stored by the card’s issuer at a secure server. A countrfeiter could simply create a card with my number but his picture and biometric data on it. Only by comparing the stored biometric data with the actual person, is identity assured.
- Privacy and Control of Access – Real ID or not, privacy today is largely an illusion. Simply blocking Real ID does little, new law would be required to regain the privacy we have lost in recent years to the improvements in computing capability. Police and Homeland Security already have databases of their own and access to privately held data. We have little control of data once it has been collected. Even such innocuous data as EZ -Pass toll information has been subpoenaed in divorce cases, so it is hard to imagine what the NSA cannot access once their interest in us has been raised. Real ID would at most standardize and lower the cost of such data mining.
So, how do we meet the legitimate goal of identity protection and still retain, and regain our privacy and curb the lust of government to spy on us?
It would seem that bypassing government and contracting for this service with the private sector would be the best way. Quite simply, our credit card companies already have 90% of the capablility. They need lonely add biometrics to fullfill all the legitimate goals of Real ID and a medical database link(if desired) to centralize medical records. But the problem of privacy would remain so long as government has the ability to access these records without due process.
One possibility would be to obtain our enhanced ID/credit cards from Swiss banks which are more reluctant to share their data, but new law, possibly even a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing our control over our own electronic records would ultimately be needed.
If their are better ways to accomplish these goals, I would very much like to hear them, because if we cannot find a way to satisfy the public’s demand for the legitimate needs for identity protection while protecting our privacy rights, Read ID will become reality.