Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 19, 2006

Sec. Chertoff talks about future ID cards

Filed under: DHS News,Privacy and Security — by Christian Beckner on January 19, 2006

The AP has a story tonight with comments from Sec. Chertoff that suggest that the proposed People Access Security Service (PASS) card could eventually resemble a national ID card, although Chertoff denies in the story that this is the explicit intent:

Planned border-crossing cards for Americans re-entering the country from Canada and Mexico may someday also carry driver’s license and other identification information, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday.

But Chertoff denied he was proposing a national identification card, which critics fear could violate privacy rights.

“I don’t think it’s a national ID card,” Chertoff told reporters.

“It seems to me that we ought to try to be building toward an architecture where one card can do a number of different things for somebody so you don’t have to carry 10 cards,” he said.

I wouldn’t be surprised if these quotes cause a minor furor over the next few days, in spite of Sec. Chertoff’s denial about the government’s intent. But hopefully this will spark a constructive debate on the question of a national ID card, not cheap shots and fearmongering. This is a debate that we should be having, as I argued in this post last week: studying the potential benefits and limitations of a national ID card as a homeland security tool from a broad systems perspective, and researching ways to integrate the highest possible degree of privacy protections into the system.

We should be doing this if for no other reason then the fact that the current path we’re on for Real ID Act implementation looks like it’s going to lead to the worst of all possible outcomes: a “de facto” national ID card that delivers suboptimal security benefits, has few cost efficiencies, and would be difficult to oversee in terms of privacy. A federally-driven ID solution would likely be significantly better on all these counts.

Kudos to Sec. Chertoff for his frank talk on this touchy issue.

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