Several newspapers in Australia write today about increasing support for a national ID card in the country. The Brisbane Courier-Mail reports on the opposition Labor Party today indicating openness to the idea if it’s implemented with strong oversight and privacy protections:
Plans for a national identity card could receive bipartisan support.
Acting Opposition Leader Jenny Macklin said yesterday Labor would consider supporting the introduction of a national smart card.
“Obviously people have a number of privacy concerns (about the cards) but, if the Government puts forward a serious proposal, we’ll have a look at it,” she said.
And The Australian has two related stories in the last day, one which notes how Attorney General Philip Ruddock is looking for someone to head up a review of the plan, and a second story which discusses how the National Party of Australia, a fierce opponent of a national ID card twenty years ago, have warmed to the plan.
For the record, I’ve been generally open to the consideration of a national ID card, if it can be done in a way that integrates strong privacy protections into the system, and I lament the fact that we haven’t had this kind of serious debate in the United States in the last four years. An open, give-and-take national debate following the parameters of this 2002 National Academy of Sciences study would have moved us closer to understanding the potential benefits and limitations of a national ID card as a homeland security tool from a broad systems perspective, with a focus on threat and vulnerability. And if such analysis determined that there were real security benefits from a national ID card, when weighed against other funding priorities, then we could have intensively researched how to implement that system in a way that strongly protects individual privacy before moving forward.
Instead, we didn’t really have this debate. The result? The REAL ID Act passes in 2005 attached to the FY 2005 supplemental appropriations bill for the Iraq War, without extensive hearings or prior public debate. If Real ID is a “de facto” national ID system, then it’s one of the worst possible forms of one: it’s not likely to deliver the potential security benefits of an integrated system; it doesn’t save money via national-level economies of scale; it has no clear funding stream; and oversight on privacy issues will be difficult in a 50-state stakeholder environment.
Hopefully it’s not too late for a more sensible and strategic outcome on this important question.
Update (1/12): See this AP story today that reinforces my comments on Real ID.