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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Essay on National ID System

The United States is currently at war.  Gone were the days when war was formally declared between states and enemy soldiers fight at a battlefield in direct confrontation with each other.  War nowadays is being fought in a guerilla fashion involving combatants who hide under the guise of friendly civilians.  Instead of atomic bombs and high powered weapons, combatants utilize unorthodox weapons such as airplanes and vehicles full of bombs to cause destruction.  In view of the crisis the United States is facing, it has to utilize extraordinary means to respond to this situation.  As a result, several devices have been proposed as a means to respond to the new threats of terrorism.  One such device is the National Identification Card System. 

The proponents of the National ID System say that this device is an effective tool in combating terrorism.  They argue that in the light of the terrorist attacks, the United States has to adopt extraordinary remedy to respond and to stop terrorism.  Although it is acknowledged that there are dangers in the implementation of the National ID System, they say that the opponents of the National ID System should also acknowledge that there are greater dangers if this will not be implemented.  (James K. Glassman 2) On the other hand, civil libertarians and human rights activists argue that while the purpose of the National ID System is laudable it, however, only offers the US citizens a false sense of security.  They firmly argue that it will only pose serious threats to the rights and liberties which the National ID System proclaims to uphold and protect.

Although the National ID System may simplify the task of government, it is not an effective tool to combat terrorism.  This essay seeks to prove that the use of the National ID system is unwarranted for three reasons: 1) the means used to carry out and implement this system is intrusive against our most fundamental rights which is the right to privacy; 2) the purpose can be achieved using other means such as the gathering and sharing of existing information from different government agencies and 3) that there is no empirical research and foundation that this system can accomplish its purpose.

Arguments against the National ID System
Civil rights and liberties are guaranteed and protected under the Bill of Rights.  No right however is absolute.  The enjoyment of constitutional rights including the right to privacy is subject also to the enjoyment by others of their right to live in a secure and peaceful state.  According to the proponents of the National ID System, the National ID System provides some kind of a trade off wherein a person gives up a part of his privacy in exchange of security. (Alan M. Dershowitz 318)

The proponents argue that had there been an ID system in place during the September 11 attack, the terrorists responsible for the attack against the United States territory would have been identified at the time they boarded the plane or even during the time they purchased their tickets.  The computer system would have easily identified any person who is in the government list of suspected terrorists. (Nicholas D. Kristof 1)

The United States is a country that is known for upholding and protecting the ideals of democracy which are peace, equality, justice and most importantly freedom.  As a democratic country, the United States is mandated to act at all times act in such a way so as not to imperil or place in danger these most sacred hallmarks of democracy.  If ever a law is passed that has an unintended effect of curtailing rights and liberties, the means for its implementation must be done in such a way so as to be least intrusive to our rights and that there is no other means aside from the proposed law that can carry into effect the objective of the law. 

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The National ID System seeks to create a centralized database of important information such as a person’s date of birth, social security number, driver’s license number, health insurance, about every person whether citizen or non-citizen.  As a centralized database, the possibility that in the future, with the use of sophisticated technology, whatever an American citizen does, from his daily banking transactions to the food he eats, the water he drinks, the visits to his doctor including his medications are monitored and placed under the hands of the federal government.  The sensitive information about every American citizen from the time of his birth to his death will be stored in a computer which can easily be updated and retrieved.  This is not necessarily bad.  But if the public were to think about the possibility that these information will fall into the wrong hands then such is the end of privacy.  With the importance and sensitive nature of the information contained in the national id who will have the responsibility of guarding these information against leakage.  It is always possible that the access to this information will fall into the wrong hands.  The information they may obtain may eventually be used for any conceivable purpose.  It is also possible that the data stored in the system can be manipulated by others causing serious damage to the reputation of another person. Consider the idea that someday a computer hacker may someday hack into the computer system and manipulate the data therein by making it appear that a person has criminal record.  This simple manipulation may prevent another person from securing employment.

Questions such as who shall have control and access to the information, or under what circumstances and for what purpose shall these information gathered will be used should be enough to cause apprehension and doubt about the necessity of the ID system.  Alan M. Dershowitz argues, however, that intrusion can be minimized simply by setting criteria for any official who demands to see the card.  (p.319) I disagree.  Even if we set limits, there is no assurance that the official will limit his actions within the bounds of his authority.  In addition, the potential for violation of privacy rights lies not only in the use of the card itself but in the use of the information gathered from the card.  What will now prevent those from hospitals or from restaurants from requiring the ID prior availing of their services?  The point is that it is possible that the ID system may be used for purposes other than that in which it was intended.  Once used the information gathered is no longer within the control of its owner. 

Considering the National ID system’s potential danger to the public’s privacy rights, the state owes it to the public to at least suspend the implementation of this program until every minute detail necessary to safeguard the public’s rights has been in place.  In this regard, Heather Green’s opinion is enlightening.  Presently, the federal government and law enforcement agencies do not need to implement the national ID cards.  Even without the national ID cards, it can still accomplish many of the same goals of an ID card by “increasing the collection and sharing of data among federal and state agencies, banks, transportation authorities and credit-card companies.” (Heather Green 314) The gathering and sharing of existing information from companies is more democratic instead of the compulsory National ID system which is in itself autocratic. 

Not only does the national ID system violate the public’s privacy rights, it also creates a false sense of security to the public.  By relying on the ID system, the public and the law enforcement officers may think that terrorism maybe smothered simply by requiring them to obtain and present ID cards. Research shows that of the 25 countries that have been most adversely affected by terrorism since 1986, eighty per cent have national identity cards, one third of which incorporate biometrics. (Privacy International 6) This just proves that there is no empirical link between ID system and stopping terrorism. 

The defect lies in the fact that the National ID system presumes that terrorists will apply for an identification card and that they shall apply using their true identity.  It is worth noting that terrorists are skilled individuals in exploiting the weaknesses and loopholes of the system.  Legally or illegally, terrorists and lawless elements will be able to get the documents they need to enter our country such as birth certificates and passports.  Just as easily as the terrorists are able to obtain new identities, they can easily obtain new identification card that can cheat the system.  Indeed, the national ID system will not prevent terrorists from obtaining fake identification cards. On the other hand, the most important weapon against terrorism is not an ID but vigilance not only among the law enforcement officers but also among citizens themselves. 

The National ID System fails the Means and Purpose Test.  The means for achieving the purpose of fighting terrorism is intrusive upon our privacy rights and that there are other means that can be utilized to achieve the state’s objective of fighting terrorism.  There is also no existing research and evidence that will prove that the state will achieve its purpose of controlling terrorism.  Liberties need not be casualties of war.  In times of war and emergency the protection of our most cherished rights and liberties becomes all the more important otherwise the whole institution will be destroyed.             

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