National ID won’t make us more secure 

A 2005 federal law requires states to issue standardized, machine-readable driver’s licenses by May 2008, in effect converting them to a national identification card that will be required to enter a federal building or fly on an airplane. The Department of Homeland Security wants to hire private data aggregators to ensure that applicants really are who they claim to be.

The REAL ID would contain your name, birth date, sex, perhaps a digital photo and fingerprints, and maybe even a retinal scan or radio frequency identification chip, all of which would be entered into a database linked with other states and the federal government. Critics call REAL ID — which could cost the states $11 billion over the next six years — an invasion of the privacy of law-abiding Americans. "Why don’t they just stamp a barcode on our foreheads at birth?" queried one angry blogger.

Jim Harper, author of "Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood," agrees. But he also points out that depending on just one ID is unwise from a national security viewpoint as well. Requiring multiple forms of identification depending upon the circumstances would actually be more secure than one national ID because "the combination lowers the chances of misidentification."

What Harper calls "piggy-backing" — the automatic assumption that a government-issued ID is valid even though fake ones are readily available on the black market — creates the most risk, he says. Relying on multiple IDs already found in most people’s wallets makes identity harder to fake. Background checks that determine who gets access to highly sensitive classified information are based on the same concept: More information is better.

"We put too much value in the driver’s license," Harper told a recent Cato Institute symposium in Washington, D.C. arguing that counterterrorism efforts should be focused on hardening facilities, not trying to track people. States can and must do a better job of verifying information on driver’s license applications, but they should never be considered the last line of defense.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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