If you are not concerned with the soon-to-be required national ID card, you should carefully consider the role that ID cards have played in the history of human persecutions within the 20th century. The prevalence of national ID cards should concern all persons who are mindful with the prevention of a national genocide similar to what happened in Rwanda and in Nazi Germany.
In Nazi Germany (July 1938), only a few months before Kristallnacht (i.e., the night of the broken glass) in which Jewish businesses were targeted by the infamous "Brown Shirts" for destruction, the notorious "J-stamp" was introduced on national ID cards and then later on passports. The use of the "J-stamp" ID cards by Nazi Germany preceded the yellow Star of David badges which led to the subsequent deportation of Gypsies, Jews, homosexuals and political dissidents to the infamous Nazi death camps. In Norway, where yellow cloth badges were not introduced, the J stamped ID card was used in the identification of more than 800 Jews deported to death camps in Eastern Europe.
Identification cards, in Rwanda, were a key factor in shaping, defining and perpetuating ethnic identity. Once the 1994 genocide in Rwanda began, an ID card with the designation "Tutsi" constituted a death sentence at any checkpoint. No other factor was more significant in facilitating the speed and carnage of the 100 days of mass killing in Rwanda.
National ID cards of all kinds are controversial. In recent years in the United States, Great Britain, Canada and Australia proposals for introducing national ID cards have raised serious questions about governmental control, privacy issues and ultimately citizen safety concerns. Classification of ethnic, racial or religious groups on ID cards, however, is a distinctively different issue because of the past use of ID cars used to perpetrate the targeting of "undesirables" for possible detention or death. Of course, an American national ID card would not categorize any citizen for potential abuse, wouldn't it? Before you answer consider that 1933 Germany was a modern, civilized nation with a constitution.
In May of 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act which mandated that all Americans must have, in their personal possession, a readable, electronic ID card. The Real ID Act would establish what amounts to a national identity card. State drivers' licenses and other such documents would have to meet federal ID standards established by the Department of Homeland Security. In May of 2008, if you live or work in the United States, you will be required to possess, on your person, a federally approved ID card in order to board an airplane, open a bank account, collect Social Security and retirement benefits, or to utilize any government service. In short, you will be required to present this "mark of the beast" in order to buy and sell.
At an anticipated cost of 11 billion dollars, individual driver's licenses will be reissued in order to fully meet federal standards. At a minimum, the cards will contain your name, birth date, gender, a National ID number, a digital photograph, address, and a common machine-readable technology that Homeland Security will decide upon at some future date. However, the Department of Homeland Security is given the final say as to what may appear on your national ID card. This type of discretion opens a Pandora's Box as to the specific categorizations which characterized Nazi Germany and Rwanda ID cards. If this does not send shivers up your spine, perhaps you should reread the previous two sentences.
The national identity card must also contain "physical security features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting, or duplication of the document for fraudulent purposes." This provision potentially opens the door to some very frightening set of additional requirements (e.g., such as a fingerprint or retinal scan). What the Homeland Security provisions will entail for the ID card is unknown at this time. What is known is that Homeland Security has essentially been given a blank check to enact some very draconian security and enforcement procedures.
Of course, the discussion of this bill was held in the full view of the public, correct? Not exactly. The bill was passed as a rider on a military appropriations bill with very little fanfare or media coverage. Proponents of the Real ID Card Act state that such a citizen identification measure is needed to protect us from terrorist incursions which ostensibly threaten our safety and well-being. Recent polls suggest that as many as 65% of all Americans have not heard of the Real ID Card Act. Presumably, even a higher percentage of Americans fail to understand the provisions of the act. And even fewer understand what this law could potentially mean to the loss of civil liberties. If this act is so good for America, why haven't more Americans heard of it? Why wasn't this constitutional debate held in the mainstream of the American press?
At the very least, legislation creating an identity card should have been carefully defined and should have limited the persons who would have access to such information and provide means of segregating information that unauthorized persons would not need to see. The Real ID Card Act does not provide these protections to American citizens. Even if access were carefully circumscribed, computer databases could still be vulnerable to hackers. Harvard educated, Dr. Katherine Albrecht (www.spychips.com), very carefully details how a national ID card could lead to an unprecedented wave of identity theft through a hacker's ability to scan the chip and download your personal information. And don't forget the provision of this act which allows Homeland Security to enact any measures to "prevent tampering, counterfeiting, or duplication of the document for fraudulent purposes". How will Homeland Security respond to the threat of identity theft? Will Americans be forced to accept an implanted RFID chip in our hands or foreheads?
What is still a mystery is exactly how a national ID card is specifically going to protect us from terrorism? What is abundantly clear is that a national ID card, combined with other legislation to be discussed in parts two and three of this series, promises a nightmarish "back to the future" trip to 1935 Nazi Germany.
I fully realize that there are those that think it is prudent to acquiesce to every demand of government. There are many Americans who implicitly trust their big brother. To those who would capitulate to this law, I think they should consider wearing "brown shirts" and donning their marching boots when they present themselves to be "tagged" by their government.
Benjamin Franklin once said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."