January 30, 2002
Having had to retreat from legislative attempts to establish a
national ID card through Social Security numbers or unique health care
identifiers, Congress seems to be trying a new tack to implement this
wholly un-American idea. Congress has suggested that the Department of
Transportation develop "model guidelines for encoded data on driver's
That's bureaucratese for turning driver's licenses into a de facto
national ID card. This ominous suggestion was buried in last year's
conference report on the Department of Transportation's appropriations
Even though this is not legislation, the American Association of
Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) is already working with the
Justice Department and the General Services Administration to set up
the system. This non-official organization asserts that it has the
"responsibility and obligation" to eliminate the lack of uniformity in
state driver's licenses, and is demanding $70 million to close the
Sorry, AAMVA, under our federal system of government, driver's
licenses are in the exclusive jurisdiction of the states, and you have
no authority to require uniformity. The diversity of federalism is
part of what we call freedom.
The pushers of a national ID card are trying to ride the wave of
worries about the September 11 tragedies. But there is no evidence
that a national ID card would have prevented the hijackings, since all
19 hijackers had visas issued by government officials, most of them had
Social Security numbers, and several had legally issued driver's
Americans already have experience with the Federal Government
giving everyone a number. When Social Security was instituted in the
1930s, we were promised "This card is not to be used for
Demands that we provide our Social Security number are now so
ubiquitous that identity theft has become big business. Before we even
talk about new national numbers, the government should clean up the
mess it has already created by allowing Social Security numbers to be
used for non-Social Security purposes.
In arguing for a national ID card, an AAMVA spokesman said that
birth certificates and Social Security cards can be forged. Yes, but
driver's licenses can be forged, too, and several states even issue
driver's licenses to illegal aliens.
This plan is clearly a vast expansion of federal power, with AAMVA
CEO Linda R. Lewis calling bluntly for "federal intervention." But
AAMVA is less than forthcoming in describing the mailed fist in the
velvet glove of the driver's license system it is proposing.
This plan is not just a simple process of requiring airport
security guards to match your face with the card you present.
Transforming state driver's licenses into a national ID card poses
bigger problems than just an offense against federalism.
What's lurking behind this new proposal is a computer, which is
tied into a giant national database, which is administered by
government officials, which is subject to abuse and error. Government
busybodies would have access to your entire life history: your
travels, your money, your medical treatments, and your school records.
But that's not all. This information would become available to
banks, lending agencies, credit card companies, gun shops, auto
dealers, colleges and, of course, all law enforcement agencies.
The accuracy of the database would pose persistent problems.
Computers have glitches, humans make mistakes, and we all know how
hitting one wrong digit or letter prevents the proper file from
appearing on the screen.
The error rate in current government databases, such as Internal
Revenue and Social Security, is already an embarrassment. Those
mistakes, which may take weeks to rectify, are a costly annoyance.
But what if the mistake prevents you from boarding a plane to meet
a scheduled appointment? Or withdrawing money to pay your taxes or
mortgage on time? Or being admitted to the emergency room?
This proposed driver's license system is not about preventing
terrorism, and it's not even about identity. It's about requiring
individual American citizens to get government permission for
traveling, banking, medical care, renting or buying housing, attending
school or college, and even getting a job.
The problem that confronts America today is foreign-sponsored
terrorism, and we must draw a bright line of different treatment
between U.S. citizens and aliens. Our government should monitor the
whereabouts of aliens, but NOT require U.S. citizens to relinquish our
Aliens, both the illegals and those in our country on temporary
visas, should be required to carry and show a smart ID card with photo
and fingerprint. It is long past time for the Immigration and
Naturalization Service to implement an Entry-Exit system so we can
deport the some ten million illegals and the temporary visitors who
promised to depart on a date certain.
And yes, airlines should engage in profiling. The St. Louis
police warned repeatedly that they would be profiling scalpers at the
Rams football playoff game. If it's OK to profile scalpers, it should
be OK to profile people who are trying to murder us.