It is refreshing to take part in a discussion about national ID systems that -- unlike most discussions of this topic -- is not dominated by hysteria.
Here are a few propositions that I think might form a basis for going forward in reasoned debate. (I of course welcome debate on the accuracy of these propositions as well as the conclusions that might flow from them)
1. A national ID is not the magic bullet that will make the country safe from terrorism. Given the very poor controls we have on birth certificates at home (not to mention the impossibility of relying on the quality control foreign credentials) it at most it creates a speedbump for foreign terrorists who will need to get phony versions of the credentials used as the basis for issuing the US ID.
2. A national ID system cannot secure our borders.
3. A national ID system can, however, assist in making illegal immigration more unpleasant for immigrants by, for example, making it more difficult to employ them. All other things being equal, this should reduce the incentive for that part of illegal immigration driven primarily by economic considerations.
4. More generally, a national ID system has some substantial potential to be the cornerstone of a national fraud-prevention system.
5. A national ID system potentially creates new avenues for super-fraud and highly effective identity theft.
6. A national ID system potentially creates new avenues for governmental dossier creation on all citizens who use the national ID. These opportunities exist even if the system is not misused, and are greater if it is misused. As Lee Tien put it "'national ID' is not a card, but an entire system of databases, information gathering activities, and human beings making fateful judgments about individuals based on that overall system."
7. A National Research Council report ("Who Goes There -- Authentication Through the Lens of Privacy") noted this:
Finding 6.5: State-issued driver's licenses are a de facto nationwide identity system. They are widely accepted for transactions that require a form of government-issued photo ID.
Real ID substantially increases the likelihood that driver's licenses will become a defacto national ID for an even greater range of offline and online transactions.
8. The extent to which we reap the costs and benefits listed above is very sensitive to how the system is actually implemented. For example, a well-implemented biometric identifier makes fraud and identity theft more difficult, but also makes it more devastating when it happens since people become more reliant on the ID's security (and it is hard to grow a new retina).
Am I correct that the above propositions are (in the abstract) uncontroversial, and the controversy is in fact about how big and how likely the positive and negative effects are, and how they compare to each other?
1. REAlID done right = good
2. RealID done wrong = very bad
3. The bar is high for such a system to be good.
We aren't close yet!
I will add the following personal observations, which I suspect might be more controversial than the above:
I. For any ID system to be implemented competently (let alone in a fashion that inspires trust) supervisory authority must be taken out of the hapless Department of Homeland Security.
II. For Real ID to be implemented competently it must have
federal funding rather than being left to the states as an unfunded
III. Real ID driver's licenses are likely to become a de facto
national ID -- much more than current driver's licenses -- not just
because of the federal pressure driven by national security needs (or
rhetoric) but also because of commercial pressure from a variety of
IV. The ID must be transparent -- end users must be able to read everything coded on the ID itself.
V. If we are going to have a real or de facto national ID card, all citizens must have a right to review and correct information held on them in both public and private dossiers linked to the ID.
(For more about what I think, see my paper, The Uneasy Case for National ID Cards.)