Congress hears national ID opinions

Amid various proposals for improving homeland security, Congress is pondering the idea of requiring national identification cards. But three veteran Republican lawmakers warned Nov. 16 that the idea is certain to fail.

Plans for a national ID card have been "shot out of the saddle" repeatedly in the past, said former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.). Opponents also evoked images of Nazi Germany and concentration camp tattoos. "The issue is filled with emotion, fear, guilt and racism," Simpson said.

But something like a national ID card could be created using state-issued driver's licenses and linking state identification databases, said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

If all 50 states issued driver's licenses with biometric identification features, and the states had interconnected databases, police in any state could conduct positive identification checks "within seconds," Gingrich told the House Government Reform Committee's Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations Subcommittee.

Gingrich said identification systems currently in use such as driver's licenses, Social Security cards, visas and immigration documents are "primitive, ineffective and easily cheated."

"There is no need for a national ID card," said former Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.). "But we do need to make sure some of the identifiers we already use work better."

The most commonly used form of identification is the Social Security number, McCollum said. "I doubt that is any document in America more fraudulently produced than a Social Security card."

A national identification system that consists of identification cards and databases of identification information are considered by some to be a powerful tool or keeping terrorists from entering the country.

To others, however, national IDs represent invasive technology that would violate the privacy of all while having a questionable effect against terrorism.

A national ID card could cost $4 billion or more and would "substantially infringe on the rights of privacy and equality of many Americans, yet would not prevent terrorist attacks," said Katie Corrigan of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The terrorists who struck Sept. 11 "all had driver's licenses, credit cards and Internet accounts," said Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

However, Simpson said fears about loss of privacy are misguided. "I believe there is no such thing as privacy anymore," he said, as commercial and government databases already contain vast stores of personal information, from credit card purchases to phone calls to finances. While Congress ponders ID cards, the Bush administration has already said it opposes them. In September, White House officials said President Bush "is not even considering the idea."

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