• United States

Brits willing to carry ID cards

Apr 28, 20044 mins
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* British citizens debate national ID initiative

There was a report on the BBC last week (link below) that 80% of British citizens were willing to back a national identity card scheme. The biggest objection was that it might cost them 35 GBP (roughly $60) for the card. Contrast this with the thoughts of security spokesmouth Bruce Schneier (link below) – “My objection to the national ID card is much simpler. It won’t work.”

While the Brits who were surveyed felt the ID cards would help stem illegal immigration, U.K. Home Secretary (who oversees national policing, “homeland security,” and the like) David Blunkett sees the card as a means of combating terrorism. Schneier, on the other hand, thinks “…a national ID card program will actually make us less secure.”

Schneier believes that anyone with enough incentive would be able to easily forge a national ID card. He goes on to talk about systems to protect data, systems to handle lost cards, kludged databases with inaccurate information and much more.

Forged documents, and real documents obtained in fraudulent names, are a problem. What we do about them requires looking into the risks involved.

Drivers’ licenses are issued in the U.S. by each individual state. It’s very possible to have a license in more than one state at any given time. No one needs to do this as each state’s licenses are honored by all of the others.

Years ago, if you lost the right to drive in one state through having your license revoked (e.g., for drunk driving) you could go to another state and get a license. This second state couldn’t check to see if some other state had revoked your privileges. Nowadays, many states share this information with each other so it’s very difficult (but not impossible) to obtain a license in one state while your privileges are under revocation in another. It’s not impossible, because state legislatures haven’t assessed the risk as high enough to warrant more stringent safeguards (as is advocated by groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving).

Most national identity schemes, whether in the U.S., the U.K. or other places they’ve been proposed (such as Australia – see use driving licenses or national tax identification numbers (e.g., social security number, national health number, etc.) as the basis for starting the plan. It is true that cleaning up the associated databases (and relating them effectively as would have to be done with U.S. driver license data) is an enormous task – but not a daunting one for a country intent on providing identity services (and protection) to its citizens.

In fact, many of you probably already carry a national identity card – it’s called a passport. You need it to move between countries (and to re-enter your own country). While passports aren’t issued to all citizens yet, and while there are still a few problems with preventing fraud, the important thing is that all countries have in place a mechanism for providing identity assurance for their citizens. The latest schemes proposed (and soon to be implemented, see include biometric data in the passport for more effective (and assured) authentication.

The U.K. scheme (even including the 35 GBP “fee”) is similar to passport issuance on a larger scale. It’s something other countries could do also. In time, the social security/national health data could be linked as could the driver’s license data. It’ll take time, perseverance and – most of all – a commitment of money from the national government. Unlike Schneier, I’m confident it can be done, and I think it should be done.