Ending a moot debate

Editorial: The debate over a national identification card has been unfortunately cast as Big Brother vs. civil liberties

The debate over a national identification card has been repeatedly, and unfortunately, cast as Big Brother vs. civil liberties.

The fact is the United States already has a de facto national ID card, and it is called the driver's license. Americans also have a de facto national ID number, and it is called the Social Security number. The problem, however, is that neither the license nor the Social Security card was designed to act as such. The information systems used to issue the licenses, and to store and process personal information related to licenses, were not developed with the idea that the cards would be used as an ID card. It's time they are.

We should call an end to the national ID card debate, and states, with input from the federal government to ensure compatibility across state lines, should recognize that a driver's license is used to verify an individual's identity and design a secure card using biometrics and tamper-proof technology.

The public most likely would not oppose such a move. First, Americans are accustomed to using their licenses as ID cards. Second, a majority is in favor of some national ID card. Just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, a Pew Research Center survey found that 70 percent of Americans favored a national ID card. Much of the support could be attributed to the initial fear generated by the attacks. A later survey by Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates Inc. found that 51 percent of Americans favor a national ID card.

Some members of Congress, civil libertarians and academics have argued that the card would have done little to deter terrorists or prevent terrorism. That may be true. Applying biometrics and other technologies to licenses, however, would simply make it more difficult to fraudulently copy licenses, which gives the license the type of security it needs.

The Social Security Administration and Congress also should acknowledge that the Social Security card is used as identification and is easily forged. The same technology used to secure driver's licenses should be applied to these cards.

By conceding that these cards are used to verify someone's identity, Congress and state governments would take a big step toward, if not deterring criminals, at least making it harder for them to hide their identities.

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