Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Border's In My Pocket or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The National ID



In my lifetime I'll be carrying a National ID card in my pocket. I hate the idea, and it won't solve the problem, but it's inevitable. So the title of this post is an ironic (at best) tip of the hat to Dr. Strangelove, the iconic 1964 black comedy by Stanley Kubrick about a much bigger, but no less insoluble problem.

I hate the idea of a national ID because I'm a crunchy granola Westerner who loves privacy and wide open spaces.

It won't solve the problem because it will generate a black market for even more sophisticated (and expensive) fake documents, fostering more crime. And it will push more employers and undocumented employees into under-the-table, cash-only transactions that serve only to drive down wages and working conditions for all. We know from our history of legislating around alcohol, tobacco and firearms (don't even talk about sex) that folks are gonna do what they're gonna do, laws or no laws. The best we can do, and that at the margins, is try to tax and regulate potentially dangerous or anti-social activities. But if you are talking about working to feed yourself and your family, it's a no-brainer: you'll do anything to survive, laws or no laws.

It's inevitable because we are a fearful society, left without a scapegoat or bogeyman ever since we vanquished the Russkis (or did we?), too much in love with technological fixes such as ID cards with chips, strips, bells and whistles, and too bone-headed to realize that opening the borders to more newcomers, not fewer, will make us richer, stronger, safer and freer.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

A national ID is probably inevitable, but let's be realistic about what it will do . . . It won't stop bad guys from getting on airplanes (the Christmas bomber got on an airplane without a REAL ID, or any state driver's license at all). It won't stop people from working illegally (they will just use someone else's identity or work under the table, as you correctly note). A national ID will mean that it will be easier than ever for bad guys (both insiders and outsiders) to steal lots of people's identities. If there's a national ID, a bad guy who hacks the national ID database can steal the identity of the entire US population in one fell swoop (biometrics included).

We should have a full and robust national debate about the merits and downsides of a national ID before we implement one, and we should weigh the costs and the benefits. We have not had such a debate with REAL ID, which will become a de facto national ID. The fearmongers have led that "debate."