ID card debate resurfaces

Congress, survey, CEO show support, but administration squashes idea of issuing national ID card

Pew Research Center report

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress revisited the idea of issuing a national identification card to all Americans, but it was squashed in short order as the Bush administration stated definitively that it would not endorse the initiative, White House spokesman Jimmy Orr said.

However, that does not mean that the American people, including at least one high-powered technology company chief executive officer, agree with their elected lawmakers.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 70 percent of Americans endorse the idea, and Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison said in a television interview last month that his company would provide the software for such a database free of charge to the government.

The Pew Research Center survey, conducted Sept. 13-17 of 1,200 adults, found that while most Americans would subject themselves to having to carry a national ID card, they would not endorse related initiatives that infringe on their privacy.

The survey found that 55 percent of respondents would not favor permitting the government to monitor their credit card purchases, and 70 percent oppose allowing the government to monitor personal telephone calls and e-mails.

Mark Uncapher, vice president and counsel for the Information Technology Association of America's Internet Commerce and Communications division and former counsel for what was then the House Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee, said the ITAA has not taken an official position on the issue. But before any plan could be put in motion, privacy concerns would have to be addressed, he said.

"The card itself is not the issue," Uncapher said. "The issue is the verification and validation that a person is who they say they are."

"The question is, did the World Trade Center disaster fundamentally change anything?" asked John Pescatore, research director for Internet security at Gartner Inc. and a former National Security Agency analyst. "Six months from now, I think the answer will be 'No.' "

Still, agencies and companies are increasingly using smart cards, including the Defense Department's Common Access Card program. Pescatore said smart cards can play a role in government-to-citizen services such as tax filing, and in ensuring that airport crew members are properly identified. "But having every [airline] passenger with a national ID card really fundamentally changes core beliefs around the country," he said.

Pescatore added, however, that if the United States is a victim of a "string of terrorist attacks, maybe [then]. But we're not there yet."

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