Monday, November 03, 2008

National Identification Card

Can there be anyone left who cannot see the need for a national ID card?

Surely not, although I have heard fears all my life about invasion of privacy, erosion of states rights and the biggest threat of them all, a Communist takeover of America.

This one's a no-brainer. With the most high-profile of presidential elections in history the whole world is looking at America as we air some of our dirtiest laundry. Early voting glitches and inconsistencies all over the country are as much of an embarassment in the technological era as our health care system.

I'm all for individual states being testing grounds for all kinds of experiments, especially when it comes to new ideas. Massachusetts, for example, has figured out how to have health insurance for all its citizens, but we don't know yet how that might play out. Tennessee tried it a few years ago and had to quit because it proved too expensive, and Oregon addresses the problem by insuring as many as they can until the money gives out, awarding the bottom of the bucket by lottery!

Nebraska recently found out that their well-meant safe-haven policy allowing unwanted children to be abandoned at hospitals without penalty for whoever abandoned them is having unintended consequences. As word spread, kids are being transported from other states to be abandoned in Nebraska! The state legislature will scramble to do something about the new challenge, but the problem will remain.

Okay, then. Some issues remain unresolved. But how much longer do we have to continue avoidable confusion about identification because there is not enough political will to demand a national ID card once and for all?

We have passports.
We have state ID cards.
We have corporate ID cards.
We have school ID cards.
We have a raft of ID cards for immigrants (even though they are easily and widely counterfeited and almost never used by employers).

But I looked at my Social Security card and it clearly says "For Social Security purposes only. Not for identification."


How long, as they say, do we keep doing the same thing before we figure out it isn's working?

Cedit card companies keep incredible amounts of data on us. Every time I put gas in my car I wonder why none of those little numbers on my credit card gets messed up so I don't get the bill. But every time they find their way on to my monthly statement. This has been going on for decades and they still haven't made a mistake like that!

Three national credit reporting agencies keep an eye on everyone dealing with credit, although they don't let anyone see without charging them a fee. Consequently they have lots of wrong stuff that most of us never know about unless we take steps to investigate. But that is not the point. The point is that information and identification of everybody is already out there, even when the details are sometimes wrong.

And here is the biggest crazy idea of all: The so-called "Fair Tax" proposal which seems to have grown up in some highly-enriched Libertarian soil, advances the notion that when the Sixteenth Amendment is eventually repealed and the IRS is abolished -- replaced by this most sweeping tax reform measure in history -- everyone in the country will be entitled to a monthly "pre-bate" to cover essential services not to be taxed, so that as consumers they are charged the 23% of retail that will replace the current muddled revenue stream to the National Treasury. Advocates for the Fair Tax, including a few Congressmen and Senators, still don't seem to have figured out that in order to put their plan into place they would have to include some system of national identification that would be even bigger than the current IRS which at least doesn't have to deal with people like my mother, whose income is so low that she never files a return.

Here's this year's latest problem with identification. Hilzoy wrote about it.

Rick Hasen on the various charges of voter registration fraud and voter suppression:

The solution is to take the job of voter registration for federal elections out of the hands of third parties (and out of the hands of the counties and states) and give it to the federal government. The Constitution grants Congress wide authority over congressional elections. The next president should propose legislation to have the Census Bureau, when it conducts the 2010 census, also register all eligible voters who wish to be registered for future federal elections. High-school seniors could be signed up as well so that they would be registered to vote on their 18th birthday. When people submit change-of-address cards to the post office, election officials would also change their registration information.

This change would eliminate most voter registration fraud. Government employees would not have an incentive to pad registration lists with additional people in order to keep their jobs. The system would also eliminate the need for matches between state databases, a problem that has proved so troublesome because of the bad quality of the data. The federal government could assign each person a unique voter-identification number, which would remain the same regardless of where the voter moves. The unique ID would prevent people from voting in two jurisdictions, such as snowbirds who might be tempted to vote in Florida and New York. States would not have to use the system for their state and local elections, but most would choose to do so because of the cost savings.

The time and need for national ID's is here and now.

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