Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 1, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

NO-FLY....There are — knock wood — no terrorist suspects named Kevin Drum, which means I probably won't ever end up on the federal no-fly list. But it's still a program that gives me the heebie jeebies. Today, at the end of a story about air marshals (!) being kept off flights because their names are wrongly on the no-fly list, we get this:

The Terrorist Screening Center announced April 10 it will automatically review nearly 500,000 names on its watch list that are frequently matched during airport screenings and other law-enforcement encounters with the general public, and remove those names that don't belong to actual suspects.

Additionally, Mr. Chertoff announced Monday that each airline can now create a system of limited biographical data including a passenger's date of birth to clear up watch list misidentifications.

...."Thousands of passengers are inconvenienced each day, and this change should provide a way to eliminate the vast majority of these situations. This is good for travelers and for security, because as we make the checkpoint environment calmer, it becomes easier to spot individuals with hostile intent," Mr. Chertoff said.

First question: 500,000 names? Where are they getting this stuff? There can't be even a tenth that number worldwide who are serious threats to air travel. Keep in mind that on 9/10/01 there were a grand total of 16 people on the list.

Second: it took until now, six years after 9/11 caused the listmakers to go crazy, to order TSC to review the list for common names and remove the ones that don't belong? And it also took six years to put in place a program to allow innocent passengers to provide additional data to the airlines so they don't get hassled every time they enter an airport? Crikey.

But here's an answer to this problem. A partial answer anyway: national IDs. For reasons I don't quite get, civil libertarians routinely go crackers over this idea, but we already live in a society that demands ID for lots and lots of things, and that's not going to change. So if we're going to demand ID, why not at least provide everyone with a free, standardized, secure ID? It would make air travel more convenient, it would eliminate most of the problems with voter ID laws, it would reduce the inanities involved in moving to a new state and not being able to sign up for local services because you don't yet have any local ID, and the drawbacks would be....um....what would they be, actually? Plenty of other liberal democracies have had them for decades and seem to have stayed pretty liberal regardless.

Anyway, it's not a panacea, but it would help. And the downside, even for privacy nuts like me, seems to consist mostly of vague images of jackbooted thugs standing around on street corners demanding to see our papers. In reality, though, it would mostly be a convenience and mostly wouldn't change a thing. After all, we all have Social Security numbers already, and most of us have various picture IDs too. And we have to use them. What exactly would a national ID change about that aside from making it cheaper, easier, and more accurate?

Kevin Drum 1:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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I'm a card carrying member of the ACLU and I just don't get this at all. What's the problem here? What are people really worried about? This just came up yesterday in my Intro to the American Political System class that I teach and I got some bizarre opinions - the very same students that would allow the federal government to monitor their emails and listen to their phone calls are against a national identification card...Wha???

Posted by: Augie on May 1, 2008 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Most of the 9/11 hijackers had the closest equivalent to a national ID that we have: valid state drivers' licenses. Also, if the name on the list is a foreign person, that person won't be in the national ID database, unless he's managed to get a "secure" national ID under some name.

Posted by: Joe Buck on May 1, 2008 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Using a national ID number instead of the social security number could be a good thing.

I'd hope there would be controls to ensure the NID and SSN would be kept segregated. But I expect the NID and SSN cross-indexes will be kept on laptop computers and quickly compromised.

Posted by: Wapiti on May 1, 2008 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

It's not 500,000 names on the watch list, it's 500,000 names that are frequently matched. There's no telling how large the whole list is.

I agree about the national ID card. The kind privacy it would invade is a lost battle. Marketers (and probably the NSA) know all about us anyway; we might as well make it efficient, so they don't screw up too much.

Posted by: anandine on May 1, 2008 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

What in the world makes you think national ID cards would help with the no-fly list? That's a bizarre argument.

It's also amazing to me that someone who's been very clearheaded about the risks of identity theft and data security in the past would be sanguine about having a single point of failure for the personal privacy of everyone in the entire country.

Posted by: Evan on May 1, 2008 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

I've been waiting for years for someone to explain why a national ID card is a problem. Are passports a problem? I guess I've always had the idea that opponents to a national ID are people who want to be able to slink off to another state when they get in trouble, like deadbeats of various stripes and con artists.

Posted by: gummitch on May 1, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Personally, I've done what I can to avoid commercial airlines since they started allowing pilots to carry weapons. If that wasn't a stupid idea, I don't know what is. As far as a national I.D., isn't that the net effect of the new driver's license standard the federal government has forced on the states?

I can't yet put it into words, but the idea of a national I.D. just plain creeps me out. And although I'm generally in favor of a strong federal government, this strikes me as federalism gone too far; after all, what does it really have to do with interstate commerce? Finally, although I think government is generally competent and effective, I'm not at all convinced they would do an acceptable job of implementation. In an era where identity theft is the greatest threat to our personal security, this just seems to increase the risk by an order of magnitude.

Posted by: Dave Brown on May 1, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

What if all the terrorists with Middle Eastern sounding names legally changed their names to Jones or Smith. That would bring flight check-in to a standstill.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on May 1, 2008 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin - Sorry, I put your and Inkblot's name on the list months ago!

Posted by: optical weenie on May 1, 2008 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

I have not immersed myself in the pros and cons of a national ID card, but I also often wonder about the strong resistance from many civil libertarians. There are probably some very good reasons to be concerned and perhaps we will get some input from other readers on that score.

Regarding the recent SOTC decision to uphold voter ID laws, it is clear that we need to reconsider national IDs. If, as all evidence strongly suggests, Republicans are largely interested in voter suppression (especially among potential Democrats), I predict that the recent SOTC ruling will dry up calls for national IDs from that camp.

Posted by: HungChad on May 1, 2008 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with all of Kevin's rational, practical arguments. So my instinctive revulsion at the idea is more philosophical.

All the kinds of ID we comformist members of society carry are voluntary; we request them. Even our social security numbers are requested by our parents when we are children.

If you live off the grid, don't drive, don't have a job, don't pay taxes, don't travel, and don't vote in Indiana, you don't have to have identification of any kind.

A national ID card will be compulsory. You will HAVE to get one and carry one, even - or especially - if it is your only form of identification.

I have at least 50 pieces of plastic identifying me in my wallet right now, but every single one of them I personally requested.

I would fight tooth and nail against any law that forced me to carry a required form of ID.

Posted by: Yellow Dog on May 1, 2008 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a card carrying member of the ACLU...

Within the context of this discussion, that's a pretty neat one.

Posted by: Bob M on May 1, 2008 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

This business about 'ID cards' is a red herring.

Don't you think a U.S. passport is a "national ID" of sufficient security to uniquely identify any given person? Yet even with your passport in hand, if your name is even remotely close to one of the half million people tossed onto the No-Fly lists, you still get barred from flying.

Why? Because the only thing that gets compared is the name. That's it.

How is a national ID card going to make the least difference when the "close enough name" policy remains? It won't. The airlines still would run just the name. "Sorry Senator Kennedy, but your name still matches. Please step over here for questioning." Capiche?

Posted by: Becca on May 1, 2008 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

What Yellow Dog said.

While I agree with Kevin on the practicalities, is is a philisophical issue. While you need ID's and SSN to transact with society, it is a choice. People like to say "It's a free country." With a national ID it is a little less free.

Posted by: DP on May 1, 2008 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the reason for the review is that Nelson Mandela is on the list and SoS Rice was not happy about it.

Think about that for a second. Mandela leads the end to Apartheid and he might be leading the US to a more sane no-fly policy.

Posted by: Allan on May 1, 2008 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

500,000 names?

Whoa, who knew there were 500,000 terrorist? Instead of perhaps maybe 500,000 liberal or Democratic Party, anti-Bush people who can't fly.

Having 500,000 no-fly names on a list DOES NOT entice me in the slightest to want to add my name to any national ID list. Why would it? Just the opposite really, and so even threats of jackbooted thugs on every corner for this very Republican, Bush like suggestions that keep popping up on this supposed Dem web site, would not make me want to join any of these very un-conservative, but very Bushie loving ideas that flourish here at Washington Monthly. They aren't progessive or centrist ideas, they are corporate ideas.

Bush is not a conservative, and Kevin is not a Democratic.

Posted by: me-again on May 1, 2008 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Somebody hit upon the problem: single point of failure.

National ID is a stupid, STUPID idea. Why aren't passports a problem? Because they are only used for one thing: passport control. Why are drivers licenses such a big problem? Because they are used for far more than their intended use of proving that you can drive a car.

If we had a National ID that everybody has, it would quickly become the ID for everything. Opening bank accounts, getting onto planes, engaging in most economic activity...the ID would probably be the only way to do this. Not only would it suck for those people that don't have one, but think about what would happen if somebody got one illegitimately? Since everybody would trust it implicitly, a criminal or terrorist with a national ID would be able to do far more damage than with a drivers license. And you can bet that a national ID will be connected to your SSN.

Distributed security in this case is much better than the single source of failure. Distributed security means that if you want to do harm, you have to get a lot more credentials than you would need if we had a national ID. With a national ID, once you get it, you are in.

Is that enough of an explanation for you?

Posted by: Doctor Gonzo on May 1, 2008 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

It seems obvious to me (but I've been around a while) that the surest way to eventually spend time in some gulag is not to have definite personal ID.

And the recent Supreme Court ruling makes this perfectly clear- the states can deny the right to vote to people who can't prove who they are, that is to say, older people who have moved during their lives, disabled people who can't physically maintain their personal databases or make trips to agencies where records are kept, people who are ill, developmentally disabled, or illiterate.

And you don't need to have lived as long as I have to see what the states will do with this power. The most effective way to take this power of discrimination from them is a national ID card that, like the money we use, "is legal tender" for any question of identity.

It's not a question of whether a national ID card would be abused, it's a question of how we stop the abuse that is already occurring at the state level.

Posted by: serial catowner on May 1, 2008 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with a national ID card is that for it to be useful in proving that "I am not the same John Smith as the one that is on your terror suspect list", the federal government needs to have a clearinghouse in which most or all of the information it has about you easily retrievable via the ID.

For rather obvious reasons, this does have very serious implications for civil libertarians and privacy advocates.

Posted by: tanstaafl on May 1, 2008 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

the drawbacks

Harrassment ID card checks from a sheriff deputy or other state authoritarian while you are at a rally supporting immigrants or protesting the occupation of Iraq.

Posted by: Brojo on May 1, 2008 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

We should issue passport type ID's to every American over the next 10 years. Yes, it means that the government wouldn't collect all those passport fees but it would be cheaper than the amount we waste now.

It could be a requirement to get on any plane. It could be a requirement that once a year you show your passport at your place of work. It could be a requirement that you show your passport to purchase a gun.

This would make airplane travel faster and safer.

This would virtually eliminate the illegal immigrant problem if you fined employers for not checking passports.

This would be far better control for gun purchases and it would allow law abiding citizens to get their guns with a lot less hassle.

This would save money fairly quickly since we wouldn't need to spend so much money on airplane and border security.

Posted by: neil wilson on May 1, 2008 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

I don't quite get the problem with national IDs either, except for the relatively trivial concern of being hassled about one more piece of bureaucratic paper (see income taxes, driver's licenses, social security cards, passports, voter registration cards, vehicle registration, etc.).

Why do we need so much?

Posted by: BombIranForChrist on May 1, 2008 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with serial catowner because...

And the downside, even for privacy nuts like me, seems to consist mostly of vague images of jackbooted thugs standing around on street corners demanding to see our papers.

...we already have this, except it's LESS convienent.

['Basically, the battle over the underlying issues around national ID has been lost.']

Posted by: max on May 1, 2008 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

A national ID card will mean having to show it to justify all activities. Driving across a state border will be as much of a hassle as going to the airport. Cities will erect checkpoints at all entrances and exits to monitor the travel of all citizens. Going camping or going on a picnic will require proving one is a citizen.

If I recall, police harrassed young males in the Sixties by lawfully asking for their draft cards. A national ID will be used to lawfully harrass all citizens by uniformed authoritarians at all times. That cannot be good for market capitalization.

Posted by: Brojo on May 1, 2008 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

To add to what tanstaafl said, the creation of a central clearinghouse of data adds a significant problem: who controls the clearinghouse? Do we actually trust the government to create it and add data? What if false data becomes added? What recourse will the average citizen have to correct or delete false data? If only the government has access to read the database (which seems unlikely; it is almost certain that the database will be compromised eventually for some purpose or another) then who would question them if they came in the middle of the night to take you away?

Posted by: Dennis on May 1, 2008 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Since everybody would trust it implicitly, a criminal or terrorist with a national ID would be able to do far more damage than with a drivers license.

This is one of many valid arguments against it (others above). And once such damage was wrought, the only solution would be to add in fingerprints, DNA coding, iris scans, etc., i.e., some more profoundly intrusive measure of individual indentification. Yes, we all have SS numbers and picture IDs, but that's only because we complacently and naively allowed them to become ubiquitous proofs of identification. (It's ironic that SS cards originally came with a "Not to be used for identification purposes" warning.)

That said, I do believe it's inevitible that something like a national picture ID system will be established. However, I also think it's pretty much a given that there won't be anything cheaper, easier, or more accurate about it.

Posted by: R. Porrofatto on May 1, 2008 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Bruce Schneier does a good job explaining why national IDs are a bad idea:


Posted by: Arlen Feldman on May 1, 2008 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

National Identification Cards: Why Does the ACLU Oppose a National I.D. System? (3/12/2002)

Posted by: martin on May 1, 2008 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with a national ID is that it's a skeleton key -- you flash it, you get in. It'll be used everywhere, so you'll be able to get in everywhere. But anyone who counterfeits or steals one then has the same skeleton key, and they'll be able to walk past security throughout the country unmolested. National ID would provide a false sense of security, but no real benefit beyond making things easier on the listmakers.

Posted by: Remus Shepherd on May 1, 2008 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Do we really need to prove identification for flying? What's the point? It hardly prevents terrorism, all it does is let them collect data on who's moving where.

A national ID card is really just a drop in the bucket at this point?

Posted by: Boronx on May 1, 2008 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

If we did national ID cards, we could replace the SSN, with resulting gains in preventing identity theft. I've love to see what people could conceive for safety checks on a new national ID system. Mandate a new system, then subcontract to EPIC and ACLU for them to implement. Beta test with the identities of all politicians in the country.

Posted by: Bill Harshaw on May 1, 2008 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Bruce Schneier has written copiously and cogently on the topic of national IDs. A recent sample (http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/01/realid_costs_an.html) explains why the benefits are illusory and the dangers anything but.

Posted by: H. Richards on May 1, 2008 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

A national ID data base could include fingerprints, DNA, and retina scans. Either you are who your card says you are or you're not. Beats tatooed numbers, cattle tags and chips, but just barely. I'll go for it if everyone's tax returns become public information, too.

Posted by: slanted tom on May 1, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Heh. Shorter Kevin Drum: "Fuck it, we're already living in a police state, let's for the love of christ make it an efficient one!"

For what it's worth (nothing to you, most likely) I think one of the greatest intrusions on personal civil liberties that has ever happened has been the courts upholding a cop's 'right' to demand ID from anyone, at any time, for any reason. I should not have to have a card in my wallet to walk freely down the street if I'm not doing anything criminal or anti-social. When a cop can demand I produce an ID, and if I do not, arrest me (and if I resist or attempt to flee, use force, up to and including lethal force, to enforce his arrest powers), I am basically being put in a position where I may have to prove my innocence whenever I leave my home. That's fascist crap and has no place in a free society.

I know, I know. It's much more efficient to just show the Man our papers when he asks for them. It's a dangerous world. Don't I want our children to be safe? What am I, some kind of anarchist? Do I want our valiant forces of law and order to have to operate with a blindfold on?Don't I understand how quickly criminals and terrorists would abuse actual freedom to wander around in public without being harassed, if they actually had it?

I'd like to say I remember when this was a free country, but I suppose I'd be kidding myself. The last eight years sure have done a lot of structural damage to the facade, though, if a constantly self proclaiming lib/prog like Kevin Drum can actually come out in support of national ID cards and get something like 25 comments from fellow 'liberals' agreeing with him.

Posted by: GD on May 1, 2008 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

There was story here at Political Animal about a citizen who was denied the purchase of an automobile because his name was on the no fly list. It is possible all commercial transactions will require the national ID card information be submitted to a national database prior to their conclusion.

Posted by: Brojo on May 1, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

To add to what tanstaafl said, the creation of a central clearinghouse of data adds a significant problem: who controls the clearinghouse?

An unaccountable private company using outsourced Indian back-office labor which obtains the no-bid contract to do so thanks to generous contributions to GOP politicians, of course.

Posted by: Stefan on May 1, 2008 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

What if your ID is on the no food list?

Posted by: Brojo on May 1, 2008 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

I don't want to sound dumb... but if we do go to mandatory national ID:

1. what would be the benefit over the present situation of a state driver license as ID?

2.Why re-invent the wheel and create a new federal ID instead of just requiring everyone obtain (ideally at no cost) a passport?

Posted by: beowulf on May 1, 2008 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

The real reason we don't have national ID cards is because they're the Number of the Beast. Or their first two digits, plus 10, summed, times 33 are.

National ID bills have typically failed because they lost the votes of all the civil libertarian Democrats, the few libertarian-ish Republicans--

And a whole block of crazy Republicans with districts full of millennial fundies.

Posted by: theo on May 1, 2008 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Ummm, we already have a national ID. It's your social security number. Try getting a job or opening a bank account without it. And guess what? We already have the cards, too. These days, many people need to show that card to get a job. I've had to show it to get a drivers license. The problem with the card now is that it takes too long to get one and they are so easy to forge that forging one is easier than waiting.

Posted by: fostert on May 1, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

If I am not driving, then I don't need to carry a driver's license.

If I am not going into another country, then I don't need my passport.

If I am not setting up new employment, then I don't need my social security card.

With a national ID, it will quickly be the case that I must carry it at all times and produce it when challenged by _any_ official, not just the police. And if I cannot produce the ID on the spot, then I will be arrested and charged for breaking the ID law.

In the UK they are introducing a new compulsory ID at the moment. It is like putting every citizen on probation: if you don't keep the system's database updated with your current employment/address/etc then you are in violation. If you don't have the ID, then you are in violation. Etc.

Posted by: Chris on May 1, 2008 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

National ID's make it much easier for the government to keep track of all their citizens. If you think that makes sense, then fine. I don't think so.

As for the jack-booted thugs, it never starts out that way. It's the old camel's nose under the tent. And while they may not be on every corner, I have been stopped by the police and asked to produce a driver's license to see if I was on a list of people wanted for warrants. Maybe it wasn't legal, put who was I to complain?

Remember: the FBI was assigned to watch peace rallies and keep track of who was there.

Posted by: DR on May 1, 2008 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

In security-speak, there are two components here: authentication (you are Joe Schmo from Idaho) and authorization (you're allowed to do a certain activity). Having strong, VOLUNTARY authentication is probably a Good Thing, since you can verify who you say you are when you need to. The problem will be the massive increase in knuckleheaded and authoritarian-state authorization. Plus, of course, tracking your ass all over the country.

Take domestic flight. Before 9/11, what the hell did authorization do for security? So you're Joe Schmo from Idaho, so what? There was no real way to authorize whether you should be on a commercial airplane or not. After 9/11, the half-assed no-fly list made a bad joke of authorization.

The real reason the Bush administration has done everything under the sun besides making up something called a National ID is that it's a totem of the black helicopter crowd, not any of the other arguments. You can bug the wingnut's phones, make criminally libelous lists of who's naughty and who's nice, put up security cameras and gates all over the place and they don't care. But, make up a National ID and here comes the Antichrist.

Posted by: ericblair on May 1, 2008 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

If we get to the point where you need to have a national ID card to fly, I'll just stop flying.

Posted by: Vlad on May 1, 2008 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

This is a philosophical thing. The theory of America is that the people were here first and the government answers to them. This ID reverses the presumption.

Already when you leave the country and want to get back in, you need to prove that you have the right to be here in order to re-enter. The presumption is that you don't have the right. That's why a citizen has to have a passport to get back into the country now. It offends the hell out of me.

And ICE has begun extending this need to prove your right to be here to domestic ferry traffic in Washington state now, according to a report this morning. An ID card will just extend it to anywhere and everywhere you are at any time.

I know that in practice they can already do most of that to us at any time. But not in principle. An ID card like this would give them the principle. I'm no libertarian or Reaganite, but they've got the right idea on this one-- my existence doesn't come from the state.

Posted by: Altoid on May 1, 2008 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

I am almost tempted to dismiss all the anti-National Id crowd as tin foil hat types, but part of me is sympathetic to their paranoia.

Our privacy is already hopelessly compromised, and the multiple redundant databases, both government and private, make it more likely that data integrity will fail (as in having Ted Kennedy appear on the no fly list). A "good" National Id system would not just be your name on a card, it would incorporate biometric information to prevent fraud, and have privacy protections--these are possible with a properly designed system.

The true problem with a National Id system, is not the technology, which can be validated and refined, it is its administration. Americans in particular are distrustful of their government (and after 7 years of Bush, have good cause to do so), and so it is not surprising that few have confidence in the government to run a Nation Id system in good faith, and not quickly pervert it into an Orwellian nightmare after the next national security incident.

Posted by: Dazir on May 1, 2008 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

Given: (1) the limits of our knowledge of the identity of potential terrorists, and (2) the overwhelming number of "false positive" names on the No-Fly list, someone seeking to board a plane with the intent of committing terrorism would probably be better off using his own name, rather than a false name--less chance of being on the No-Fly list that way . . .

Posted by: rea on May 1, 2008 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

All I can do is summarize the excellent points others have made.

1. Single point of failure.
2. Increased possibility of government misuse.

For tax reasons our SS number is our national ID, but that is not used for travel. For international travel we've got the passport. To drive a car we've got a driver's license.

Anyone who trusts that our government would NEVER abuse the power a national ID card would give them has been under a rock for the last eight years and has read no science fiction.

Actual rationing was used just over sixty years ago. We've had prohibition. Our government has already demonstrated its ability to restrict citizen freedoms.

Posted by: Tripp on May 1, 2008 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with national ID's is the same problem with state drivers' licenses. To get one, you have to provide birth records. Some states make this process simple, with others its a beareaucratic nightmare. If the process of creating, storing, and obtaining copies of secure vital records can be standardized and simplified, you may have a winner. Until then, it's a dog.

Posted by: CT on May 1, 2008 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Because the police can find you easier.

I shit you not that is why when I was a kid and my mom tried to get me finger-printed in case of Stranger Danger I exploded at her (I think I was 7?) and that was one of the reasons I gave.

As I've gotten older and become a hispanic male between the ages of 18-29 I've been ever so grateful the police have limited data on me.

Posted by: MNPundit on May 1, 2008 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

First question: 500,000 names? Where are they getting this stuff? There can't be even a tenth that number worldwide who are serious threats to air travel.

What? Kevin, haven't you seen all the faggoty-looking kids walking around nowadays? With hair like that, it's natural one of those kids could be the next Osama bin Laden.

I'm just making fun of the conservatives, people...

Posted by: Swan on May 1, 2008 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union was synonymous w/ the phrase "Papers, please." And all of a sudden it's ok for random people to just walk up to you and demand your ID whenever they want. And anyone worried about this is being "vague". How humiliating. :-(

Posted by: Capt. Jean-Luc Pikachu on May 1, 2008 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

Ha ha!

Doctor Gonzo pointed out:

If we had a National ID that everybody has, it would quickly become the ID for everything...Not only would it suck for those people that don't have one, but think about what would happen if somebody got one illegitimately? Since everybody would trust it implicitly, a criminal or terrorist with a national ID would be able to do far more damage than with a drivers license.

That reminds me of one night at my Army training base, when I was told by the guy at the desk in our company's Orderly Room that we couldn't go off post without a pass. We pointed out that almost everyone did so, and that the guards at the gates almost never checked them. His answer?

"You have to have a pass so that you aren't caught off base without one."

Sound like Yogi Berra and Aflac? You bet.

While I agree with so many points in favor of National ID cards, and with the point that it would eliminate a lot of grief for a lot of people in SOME situations, knowing bureaucrats it would VERY quickly devolve into just what the alarmists claim: They would eventually make it a law that you can't get caught without one. Mark my word.

In 1970, stationed in Ohio, I was pulled over by a cop, who asked for my driver's license, which I did not have on me (an Ohio one, BTW). No problem - they had me in their database as being a registered driver. (I got a warning about speeding.) THIS IS IN NINETEEN SEVENTY.

In Illinois, where I live now, if one is stopped and cannot produce one's driver's license, one is given a ticket for that and must go to court (wasting the better part of a day's work) to prove to a judge that one was licensed to drive on the date of the stop. IN TWO THOUSAND AND EIGHT! They can't look us up in their database? Of COURSE they can. And they DO; they check to make sure the Driver's License in their hands is not a fake. Ergo, the REAL one is the entry in the database. But if you left it on the dresser this morning and then get stopped, woe unto you in IL - make a date wiff de Judge. (YEAY, OHIO!)

No matter what system they have, they will find ways to make it 199% bureaucratic AND 299% of an imposition on the citizen. Mark my word.

"All institutions are destructive of the individual. ALL of them. Give them enough time, and all institutions will show their true colours - to the detriment of the individual."

Posted by: SteveGinIL on May 1, 2008 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

Doctor Gonzo: And you can bet that a national ID will be connected to your SSN.

I haven't read all the comments above, but I will say that when my daughter exited the military, they told her to keep her ID (with all kinds of info about her on the chip inside) because soon everyone in the U.S. would have to have one anyway--and yes, the number on it IS her SSN.

Posted by: Gaia on May 1, 2008 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

I so agree with you. If states are going to require ID to vote, then the only way to trump the people who hope this will keep DEM voters away, is to make everyone have one, paid for by the gov.

Posted by: lilybart on May 1, 2008 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK
First question: 500,000 names? Where are they getting this stuff? There can't be even a tenth that number worldwide who are serious threats to air travel.

Well, first, they don't put people on it if they are a "serious threat to air travel", they put it on if they've been a suspect of any of a variety of crimes that might, if true, indicate that they could be a remote threat to air travel. Second, they use known aliases for the people on the list. Third, they may also put a wide variety of close variations on the actual names (they either do that or do approximate matching; I'm not sure which. I do know that people have been flagged because of having names similar to the actual person targetted by a listing, though, which implies that one or the other is used.)

(Also, actual serious terrorism subjects take much longer to get put on the list than they are supposed to: the list is, clearly, not managed to be effective in fighting any actual threat, it is designed and managed to get people used to arbitrary inspection and internal travel being treated as a special privilege subject to arbitrary deprivation rather than a right. It is, in other words, one of many policies whose only real purpose is to serve as part of the narrow wedge of creeping totalitarianism in the U.S.—a free people will object to having their freedom taken all at once, but too it bit by bit, each bit small enough that most people don't see the point of complaining, and you do much better.)

Posted by: cmdicely on May 1, 2008 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect one of the reasons for there being so many names is that there are numerous permutations of the same name. With arabic names, the romanization process isn't exactly straight forward.

e.g. Muhammed, Mohammed
Osama, Ousama, Ossama, etc

And then when you have people who have three or four names as part of their full title, it is not hard to see how a small number can result in hundreds of thousands of names.

Posted by: dmm on May 1, 2008 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect one of the reasons for there being so many names is that there are numerous permutations of the same name. With arabic names, the romanization process isn't exactly straight forward.

e.g. Muhammed, Mohammed
Osama, Ousama, Ossama, etc

And then when you have people who have three or four names as part of their full title, it is not hard to see how a small number can result in hundreds of thousands of names.

Posted by: dmm on May 1, 2008 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

Who knows, maybe the people generating the list just hit the "post" button too many times and there are really only a couple of unique names

Posted by: dmm on May 1, 2008 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Two problems: first, there is no way that this administration could be trusted not to misuse the power that would go with a nationl ID and I'd just as soon not tempt any future administrations.
Second, in order to make the ID more "secure", more and more data will be needed and all that data needs to be entered and protected. By companies making the lowest bid or who are on the inside track with whoever is letting the contract, or want to show how "friendly" they are to whatever administration is in power. There are enough ways for the various levels of government to misuse their authority, we don't need to give them any more.
Finally, this is simply antithetical to all that this country represents and was based on. The legitimacy of the government is based on its being responsible to the citizens; by requiring those citizens to prove that they are who they say they are, the entire meaning of the Constitution is turned upside down and the citizens become responsible to the government.
No thanks.

Posted by: Doug on May 1, 2008 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK
What exactly would a national ID change about that aside from making it cheaper, easier, and more accurate?

Um, given the "accuracy" of things like the No Fly list and other federal "identification" activities, what makes you think that a federal ID would be "more accurate".

(And what makes you think it would be "cheaper" or "easier", rather than "more profitable for the various contractors involved in building and supporting the systems for generating IDs, storing information on them, and developing systems to read and conduct verification against them.")

Posted by: cmdicely on May 1, 2008 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

As I mentioned above, a national I.D. really isn't much different than the requirements of the REAL I.D. law; in other words, like it or not, it is already happening.


Posted by: Dave Brown on May 1, 2008 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

Your papers are not in order!

Posted by: AH on May 1, 2008 at 8:00 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, Kevin, but be careful what you say. Like even more than you have been lately.

It only takes one security or Republican based ass to throw your name in the mix. Then you're screwed.

Who knows? Even rendition.

So long!

Posted by: notthere on May 1, 2008 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

My papers are in Zig-zag order.

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK

Efficiency in monitoring citizens is to be feared, not welcomed.

Posted by: Boronx on May 1, 2008 at 11:15 PM | PERMALINK

It seems like the American ruling class is looking at China and thinking "So that's how you do it."

Posted by: Boronx on May 1, 2008 at 11:18 PM | PERMALINK

Most people naively think the no fly list is about preventing terrorism. Wrong, wrong, wrong! It’s all about convincing the public the Bush administration is doing something about terrorism. That and the fact that the more people that on the no fly list, the more it frightens the rest of us, which is exactly what the Bushies want.

Posted by: fafner1 on May 2, 2008 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

A national ID card would be of fairly limited use. Any document can eventually be stolen and/or forged, which would still require a backup method of verifying that the holder of the ID is actually the person they seem to be. I think it makes much more sense to use fingerprint technology more pervasively. No one (gruesome movie plot exceptions aside) can steal your fingerprints. The fingerprints can be matched up against a database of known offenders, without dealing with the vagueness of some current matchups. Likewise, people could opt to be "pre-screened" so that their fingerprints could pop up in a database as such, letting them continue traveling on their merry way. If things progress in this direction, which I think they will, passports themselves may soon become obsolete, as the information can all be electronic (assuming you're traveling to a country with similar high tech immigration equipment) so you won't need to carry any travel or id documents with you other than your fingerprints.

Posted by: Mel on May 2, 2008 at 1:27 AM | PERMALINK

There's a bigger problem here. If you have not done anything wrong enough to be arrested for a crime, what right does the state have to keep you from flying? People have been denied a car purchase because of being on some secret government watchlist as well. Again, on what grounds?

If the person is that dangerous, there's probably a way to do more than just write their name down on a list.

Posted by: gex on May 2, 2008 at 3:36 AM | PERMALINK

"No one (gruesome movie plot exceptions aside) can steal your fingerprints."

Not true. They don't do visual comparisons of fingerprints, this is digitized. Digital data CAN be stolen, and fake finger prints can be made to deliver that same digital signature.

Germany is trying to implement some massive system, and even before implementation, hackers have stolen and published the fingerprint of the Minister of the Interior. Boing Boing article

If you want good reading on what real security is, versus security theater, I recommend looking up Bruce Schneier.

Posted by: gex on May 2, 2008 at 3:44 AM | PERMALINK

And if a terrorist gets a national ID card, then what do we do? Just let them walk on the plane with little scrutiny?

Seriously, read Schneier. One of his best points about the two types of airport security (long lines for most of us and shorter lines for people who pay a fee, get a background check, and undergo less scrutiny) is that all that does is create an easier path for motivated criminals to get in. Just take someone with no record, pay the fee, and never take your shoes off for the TSA again.

Posted by: gex on May 2, 2008 at 3:49 AM | PERMALINK


BIG FEAR -- if there is a master list of everyone, then those in government can pick and choose FOR ANY REASON who to flag as an undesirable. This can be your political foes, or maybe just an individual a government worker or bureaucrat, or President just doesn't like.
Who knows how great the scope of restrictions will increase -- we give those in the government the right to create a new "Yellow Star" system to discriminate against those they oppose for any reason.

It will be unreviewable because of "national security" and then we are really in trouble. It is a terrible combination of power and potential unaccountability. The reason for the requirement that no one (other than for income accounting reasons) that anyone could demand your SS No. was because such fears were much more evident to the populace when Soc Sec. was created.


Please read and respond to this.


Ron Feinman

Posted by: Ron Feinman on May 2, 2008 at 5:20 AM | PERMALINK

I am shamed and angry every time I go through a US airport. The system is stupid and does not work. The make it up as you go along approach was perfectly sensible in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Today it is institutionalized and remains stupid, egregiously silly and totally ineffective. Compare to other countries where they actually catch the guys and there is no TSA stupidity to deal with. I gueess you have all seen the reports where air marshalls were forbidden to board because of their names being on the no fly list. WAKE UP GUYS you are not impressing anybody and you are totally ineffectual.

Posted by: Lightflyer on May 2, 2008 at 7:06 AM | PERMALINK

yes, lets by all means haf papers to carry for everyvon!

Eet vill be just like ze olde Gestapo days.

Good ya good.

Posted by: on May 2, 2008 at 7:40 AM | PERMALINK

Who the hell are you? And what have you done with Kevin??

Posted by: Mezon on May 2, 2008 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

The upside I see is that the government, if requiring people to have a national ID, could be required to pay for it. Which would be a neat solution to the law in Indiana that just passed Supreme Court review. Want to require people to show ID? Fine, then provide them with the ID they need. The poor, the elderly, and the other various subgroups who are the target of the Republican voter-suppression machine would at least be able to get their required ID paid for by the very government that decided that efforts to disenfranchise them are just fine.

Posted by: Wally on May 2, 2008 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

"Yellow Star"

A national ID system makes us all victims to state power, which can be benign or genocidal. With the recent Supreme Court ruling about search and seizure, a national ID would not only force citizens to prove who they are, it would literally open every citizens' doors to legal search and seizure regardless if no crime has been committed.

Posted by: Brojo on May 2, 2008 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

Unless it is deeply biometric based it won`t be any sort of improvement.

Oh and the Tardens of the world would not be able to operate so TPTB will not be for it.

Watch this

Read this book for a hint or four.

"Stop quoting the laws to us. We carry swords." - Pompey

Posted by: daCascadian on May 2, 2008 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Oh yeah, biometric data.

True story here. A colleague was working with a 'finger print' digitizer connected to his database.

He showed me it working on his prints. Then I tried it and about my third finger was reported as his thumb.

Today I leave my fingerprints all over the place. Why not. It would be trivial for someone to get them and do what they will with them. Remember, the forgery doesn't have to be good, just good enough.

Posted by: Tripp on May 2, 2008 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

I've lived in a country where everyone IS required to have a national ID card - Israel. You have to show one to open a bank account (if you're a foreigner, you use your passport). There are many other occasions when people ask for your ID number. I've never heard an Israeli complain about having to do this, or citing it as an example of overreaching state power. (And the Israeli government certainly is guilty of overreaching state power at times, for example in its dealing with protesters). It just seems to function as a useful form of identification. I haven't even read articles saying that it's a factor in identity theft in Israel.

Are there European countries that also have national ID cards? If so, have the issues arisen that people here seem to be afraid of?

Posted by: Rebecca on May 3, 2008 at 1:16 AM | PERMALINK

Do Israeli ID's identify one by religion and/or race? What are the consequences for not having the ID when asked by police or the IDF?

Posted by: Brojo on May 3, 2008 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK



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