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Archive for March 17th, 2010

No Big Deal!

I received the following e-mail regarding my commentary, “A Malthusian Statist’s Dream Come True,” about the proposed national biometric identification card:

Jerry,

I really need your help on this one. No one can hide their identity today anyway, with DNA. I had to submit fingerprints to become a teacher. Totalitarian states don’t just require ID: they force people to produce it at the whim of any bureaucrat. We’re not talking about that.

I see nothing inherently wrong in ascertaining everyone’s identity. Hitler also had the Autobahn and Volkswagens and wore pants and breathed air. It would be wrong to jail you for not carrying it, or requiring that it be shown at checkpoints within the US or at state borders, but those are separate issues from having reliable ID. 

 It seems to me that the people who benefit by far the most from a lack of reliable identification are illegal aliens, identity thieves, credit card thieves, other criminals and underage drinkers. What could the government do to a law abiding citizen if they required ID that they can’t do anyway?

I really don’t get it. What am I missing? The association with totalitarian states sounds to me like a correlation without causality. For a childhood reference, I am not against fluoride.

No Big Deal!

NOTEI have arranged No Big Deal’s questions in an interview style format so as to address his concerns individually.

No Big Deal: I really need your help on this one. No one can hide their identity today anyway, with DNA.

I.M. Kane:  It’s still possible for people to hide their identity in plain sight. Think about it; who is Brother O anyway? Is his name Barack Obama or Barry Soetero? Was he born in Hawaii or Indonesia? Did he really attend Columbia University; if so, why doesn’t anybody remember him?  Did he write Dreams from My Father or did William Ayers? Is he really a genius; if so, what is his IQ or his GPA in high school and college? Can he really float off the floor like a soap bubble at the behest of the Democrat Party, or do the laws of physics ground him like the rest of us?

No Big Deal: I had to submit fingerprints to become a teacher.

I.M. Kane:  You were not forced to work as a teacher, and you submitted to the fingerprinting willingly because it was a requirement for entering the occupation, as pilots must submit to random drug and alcohol testing before flying an airplane. However, there are many occupations and professions that do not require fingerprinting or drug and alcohol testing before performing a job. The National Workers ID card will be a mandate for people employed in all occupations and professions to submit or else be subject to the penalties for breaking the law.

Come to think of it, how well is that fingerprinting deal working out in public education? All the precautionary screenings to keep out convicted felons haven’t done diddly squat to prevent child molesters from teaching in public school classrooms, which was the reason given for making the background checks mandatory in the first place. By the way, who conceals more sexual predators the Catholic Church or the NEA? 

No Big Deal:  Totalitarian states don‘t just require ID: they force people to produce it at the whim of any bureaucrat. We’re not talking about that.

I.M. Kane:  Surely you’re not suggesting the government wouldn’t force businesses and employees to produce an ID card at the whim of any bureaucrat? Fabian socialists overthrow free market systems incrementally. For the first time in this country’s history, employers would have to receive the government’s permission to hire a new worker. Lord Acton’s adage, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is after all a truism that transcends national boundaries. Fallibility, thy name is human!

No Big Deal:  I see nothing inherently wrong in ascertaining everyone’s identity. Hitler also had the Autobahn and Volkswagens and wore pants and breathed air. It would be wrong to jail you for not carrying it, or requiring that it be shown at checkpoints within the US or at state borders, but those are separate issues from having reliable ID.

I.M. Kane:  No one is all bad; Hitler was human and did some good things and Mussolini as they say “made the trains run on time.” It is never acceptable to relinquish civil liberties and human rights to a statist government for promises of efficiency, safety, and social stability.

Sweden is often cited by those who believe in the power of the government to solve all problems as a “benevolent” socialist or social democratic state. For forty years (1934-1974), Sweden enforced national sterilization programs based on the “science” of genetics. The government lobotomized “undesirables,” some without the families’ consent, to determine if the procedure could cure alcoholics and criminals. The Swedish government also forced hundreds of mentally retarded people to let their teeth rot after being force-fed candy in dental experiments. Norway and Denmark had similar policies.

The human condition will always dilute socialism’s magical elixir to cure social woes. Man will never improve upon the human condition. Failure to recognize and realize that simple truth leads to the rise of mega maniacal demagogues and the horrors and atrocities of Joseph Stalin’s Collectivization Campaign, Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution, and Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward.

Consider the scene from the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring when the ring bearer Frodo offers the Noldorin princess Lady Galadriel the ring of power for the asking:

Frodo:  [telepathically] If you ask it of me, I will give you the One Ring.

Galadriel:  You offer it to me freely? I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired this.

[starts to grow dark]

Galadriel:  In the place of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen! Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the Morn! Treacherous as the Seas! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair!

The Founder’s separated the powers of government because they understood the human condition. As William Penn said, “If we will not be governed by God then we must be governed by tyrants.” Once the government establishes itself in a part of our lives, another piece of our liberty goes by the wayside—and may never be regained.

No Big Deal:  It seems to me that the people who benefit by far the most from a lack of reliable identification are illegal aliens, identity thieves, credit card thieves, other criminals and underage drinkers. What could the government do to a law abiding citizen if they required ID that they can’t do anyway?

I.M. Kane:  The problem is not that we need to create more laws and a national workers’ identification system to reliably identify criminals, illegal aliens, and underage drinkers; the authorities already know who the lawbreakers are.  The police seldom have problems identifying suspects; problems arise when it comes to catching and convicting them.

Lawbreakers benefit when existing laws are not enforced, not because there aren’t enough identification laws. We know the 9/11 terrorists did not conceal their identities. Al Qaeda selected them because their records were clean with no ties connecting them to terrorism.

Think about it; more gun laws don’t make for less crime, neither will more identification laws make for less illegal immigrants. The Columbine murderers broke 19 existing guns laws; does any rational person think that they would not have carried out their shooting spree had there been 21stringent guns laws instead of 19? The ID system will add more laws for the law-abiding people to bear.

To do identity-based security, you need to know who people are in the first place. That’s not easy to do with lawbreakers. Knowing who a person is does not reveal his intentions or what he plans to do.

Do you really think an ID card linked to a centralized database containing the personal information of every worker in the U.S. will efficiently rid the nation of illegals, thieves, and other criminals? Those employers who rely on undocumented labor are already violating the law, and doing do so intentionally.  They will pay their undocumented workers in cash, under the table, and not use a verification system, while employers who already comply with the law will be burdened with new, costly requirements for the hiring process.

The national ID card system not only won’t work, it will create more criminals and produce more problems. Law-abiding Americans will be treated like criminals, required to enter their intimate, personal data into a government database.

There is a world of difference between voluntarily carrying an ID card and being compelled to carry one. When people forget a credit card, it is an inconvenience, but if they leave home without their compulsory ID it’s a criminal offence. If they change their address and fail to notify the government, it’s a criminal offence. If they lose it and fail to report it lost, it’s a criminal offence. Thousands of absent-minded, forgetful people would have criminal records overnight.

And what about those Americans who refuse to participate in the ID system on principle even if it means breaking the law? There could be thousands or even millions of them. Once it’s mandatory, will the Government fine or imprison them? How will society cope with thousands or possibly millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens being branded criminals?

How much additional strain would it put on an already strained relationship between the public and the police?

The ID system will become central to life in America with many millions of checks every day. A system of this magnitude would be more susceptible to computer hardware, software, or communications failures than most systems. What will be the cost to businesses of the system being down and who will bear the cost? 

Biometrics is not even close to being infallible. The ID card involves a centralized data base of converged or joined data resources, which poses threats to the security of data.  It also introduces the inevitability that data will be lost, misinterpreted, mutated, or abused. Bureaucrats could also be bribed or forcibly coerced into divulging information or producing fake ID cards. Hackers could invade the centralized database and distort or steal personal information.

The personal information stored in a national worker registry would have to be widely available to the public—more than 6 million employers, after all, would need access to it. The entity administering the new employment-verification system will have access to public records, government databases, to ensure that the person seeking to enter the new employment-verification system is, in fact, the person he or she claims to be, and the person has legal status. Multiple-agency access to sensitive data greatly increases the potential for misuse of information, either through corrupt disclosure or lapses in security.

Many private companies would have motives for tapping into the information stored in a national worker registry. Market research firms routinely compile information from public records that they use to estimate annual income and other characteristics to create a consumer profile. They also pay top dollar for information kept by the federal government. Knowing that everything is available for a price, government agencies will be eager sellers.

Currently the error rates of government agency databases are extremely high. For example, error rates for Internal Revenue Service data and programs typically range between 10 and 20 percent. The data which a nationwide verification system would use would rely on two highly flawed data bases, one by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the other the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Both are notorious for containing incorrect or outdated information, with error rates as high as 28 percent.

Roughly 65 million Americans either enter the work force or change jobs every year. Even an error rate of no higher than one percent would mean that 650,000 Americans could be denied jobs every year.

Also, the cost to set up the computer infrastructure to support the ID card scheme will be quite expensive. This will be an unfunded mandate on employers. Every workplace in America would have huge administrative costs to comply with the burdensome regulations, especially small businesses.

No Big Deal:  I really don‘t get it. What am I missing? The association with totalitarian states sounds to me like a correlation without causality. For a childhood reference, I am not against fluoride.

I.M. Kane:  American citizens should not be forced to compromise their rights to stop illegals from coming into the country. Now it’s national workers cards, next it’ll be a national medical card, then a national tracking system for cars.

Being employed should be a private agreement between an employer and employee. Law abiding Americans should not have to ask some government bureaucrat for permission to work. American workers shouldn’t have to beg or plead with a government official to be allowed to work in the country their forefathers gave their lives to protect. Period!

Is this how the citizens of the freest nation on earth are to be treated?  Mandatory fingerprinting! Scanning the hands of Americans! Next, once the system’s in place, the national ID card will used to regulate access to financial services, housing, medical care, prescriptions—and serve as an internal passport.

Bear in mind, the ID system will be run by the same federal government that has a hard time maintaining an accurate No-Fly list—a list, riddled with errors, which has even prevented members of Congress from flying.

No Big Deal:  [T]here is [not] a clear right to privacy to be found in the Constitution. The finding of privacy in Roe v. Wade was a dubious extrapolation of the “penumbras” of case law issuing from the Constitution. Perhaps we need an explicit Amendment that gets privacy out of the penumbras and into the light. What do you all think?

I.M. Kane:  Roe should be overturned for one reason; it’s unconstitutional, which means it’s bad law. We don’t need a privacy amendment; we need to enforce existing amendments in the Bill of Rights, especially the 10th Amendment and restrict the powers of a centralized government.

The following reasoning applies to mandatory healthcare:  there is no provision in the Constitution that grants the federal government the power or the right to force Americans to be fingerprinted or to carry an ID card against their will.

My central objection to a national computer registry and worker ID card is that once privacy is denigrated all sorts of innovative government controls are possible. Depending on how far Congress wants to go in suppressing the rights of the individual in order to deter illegal immigration, the technology exists for an effective Orwellian identification system.

“Hughes Aircraft Company now has a new identification technology involving a syringe-implantable transponder. Described as a “safe and inexpensive” worker identification technology, the procedure involves planting a tiny microchip under the skin. The chip contains a 10-character alphanumeric identification code that can never be duplicated. The microchip is read by an electronic scanner—the type that reads the price tag on the food you buy at the grocery store,” writes Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute,

Government databases and ID systems are often abused by government officials or hackers violating the basic civil liberties and privacy rights of individuals. For example:

  • During World War II, the FDR administration violated the confidentiality of Census Bureau information to find Japanese-Americans and send them to internment camps.
  • In 1995, over 500 IRS agents were caught looking through the tax records of their friends, celebrities, and thousands of Americans.
  • In 1997, Social Security Administration Web site was hacked allowing access to payroll and benefit records.
  • In 2008, state and law-enforcement computer systems were illegally tapped for personal information about “Joe the Plumber.
  • Later in the same year, a hacker cracked Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s private Yahoo e-mail account.
  • Last year, computer hackers got hold of personal e-mails from the UK’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) discussing how data was destroyed or hidden that did not support the unit’s global-warming claims.

A national ID card isn’t anything new. Moore points out that Reagan Attorney General William French Smith argued for the necessity of a “perfectly harmless ID card system” to reduce illegal immigration during a cabinet meeting back in 1981. Another cabinet member suggested, “why not tattoo a number on each American’s forearm?” Reagan blurted out, “My god, that’s the mark of the beast!” And that ended the national ID card during the Reagan years.

As it was then, may it be so again.

I am spent,

I.M. Kane

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