Why won't the GOP kill a national ID?

By Tom DeWeese
web posted June 1999

If ever there was an issue that Republicans could rally around, this should be it. The Clinton-Gore Administration wants to implement a "Big Brother" national identification system. Americans have consistently opposed this kind of legislation because it would destroy the most basic tradition of the nation, the right of the individual to be free of total government control. This is the basis of the Bill of Rights. Why, then, has the Republican response been so tepid?

Americans loudly expressed their opposition to federal banking regulations, called "Know Your Customer," that would have established massive federal data bank profiles on every bank customer. More than 150 000 Americans protested the idea to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

Americans have made it abundantly clear that they do not want a federal card that they will be required to carry in order to get on an airplane, open a bank account, acquire medical services or buy a gun. Americans do not want to be checked, stamped, or authorized by nameless, non-elected, faceless federal bureaucrats. Free societies don't tolerate such centralized supervision; these are the tools of totalitarian dictators.

It gets worse. Once a national ID system is in place, there are plans to expand it to include computer chips containing medical, school, employment and tax records. These chips will allow the card to be used as your source of money, replacing credit cards and ATM cards. The argument is that this card will allow the purchase all goods and services in a cashless society. What is not said, however, is that without it, you will be shut out of society.

Before Americans embrace such technical wizardry, they had better ask one important question: who will be running the computers that contain all of this life-giving information? Does anyone who has ever had to deal unresponsive government bureaucrats want to put themselves at their mercy?

It has been estimated that nearly thirty percent of all information already stored in government data banks is incorrect. Anyone who has tried to purchase a home recently is aware of the nightmare involved in cleaning up errors on a credit record. Imagine what would happen if incorrect information kept you from getting a job or from purchasing groceries with your one-stop, government-approved national ID card?

How would you get the data corrected? If you like dealing with the IRS, you'll love the national ID system. What if an error in your personal file indicated you were wanted by the police? Putting all Americans under Big Brother's surveillance to catch a few lawbreakers is opening the door to tyranny. Personal information in the hands of a stranger is a perfect setting for fraud and corruption. There is no way to control it.

One of the greatest protections Americans have always had against invasive government power is the government's inability to keep track of our every movement. Give the federal government that ability and liberty simply cannot survive in this nation.

That's why the fight to stop a national ID card is a ready-made crusade for anyone advocating individual liberty and limited government. So where is the Republican-led drive to cast the tyranny of a National ID into the legislative trashcan where it belongs? Where is the Republican leadership? Playing intra-party politics, as usual.

Congressman Ron Paul of Texas has introduced bills he calls the "Privacy Package." This group of four bills would prohibit the federal government from creating a national ID by repealing offending sections of laws passed in 1996. The bills would prohibit any implementation of the FDIC's "Know Your Customer" profiling data banks. Paul's bills would allow bank customers to see their own files and correct inaccurate or false information. They would repeal the badly worded banking law that gives the federal government the right to monitor private bank accounts.

Capitol Hill sources report, however, that new House Speaker Dennis Hastert is "reluctant" to support Paul's bills. Why? To do so would expose an intra-party fight over the National ID concept. Is it more important to Speaker Hastert to keep peace in the Republican family than to protect the liberties of the American people?

The fight stems from the fact that a fellow Texas Republican Lamar Smith authored the offending legislation Paul is trying to repeal. Smith authored Section 656b of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996. That same year, Section 656b was also added to the Welfare Reform Act. It is Section 656b that requires the Department of Transportation to work with state motor vehicle departments to create state driver's licenses to conform to specific federal guidelines in order for the licenses to be used as a nation identification card. Specifically, Section 656b requires the use of the Social Security number to be a "unique numeric identifier."

The rule mandated that states have the new system in place by October 1, 2000. That meant that states had to set up an electronic verification system for the applicant's Social Security Number, prior to issuing a driver's license. It mandated what documents states could accept from applicants for identification purposes in order to get the new driver's licenses. Proposed security features were also listed, including digitized fingerprints, digital photographs and voice recognition files, many of which are not used or are prohibited by the states.

Under the provision of the new system, if states do not produce driver's licenses in compliance with these rules, citizens of those states would not be able to use their driver's license as identification to obtain federal services, open a bank account, buy a gun, obtain a job or even get on an airplane. Smith is convinced that the ID regulations are necessary to stop illegal immigrants from obtaining welfare payments and to assure responsibility from "deadbeat dads."

At the end of the 105th Congress, Representatives Paul and Bob Barr offered a bill to defund the implementation of the 656b regulations, but that effort was thwarted by Rep. Smith when he pressured them to drop their efforts. Barr agreed, joining Paul in a new amendment that simply delayed implementation for a year. It was a minor victory against the National ID, but this year, Paul has determined to take an even stronger approach by issuing H.R. 220, "The Freedom and Privacy Restoration Act of 1999" to fully repeal Section 656b, along with three additional bills that make up the "Privacy Package." Smith, however, is determined to impose the National ID scheme.

Unfortunately, Speaker Hastert looks at the whole debate as a threat to "Republican unity." According to Capitol Hill sources, Hastert's office has told Congressmen Paul and Smith to "work it out." If the division continues, then Paul's bill will get no support from the Speaker's office and will die without a hearing. If that happens the rights of Americans dating back to the founding of the nation will also die.

In what sometimes seems a Republican quest to assure their own defeat, the implementation of a national identification system has been declared to be beyond debate. It's our liberties that Hastert is ignoring. Party unity is no excuse to do the wrong thing. Congressman Smith has taken a very non-Republican, Big Brother position on the issue of the national ID. It is time for Speaker Hastert to exercise leadership and support Congressman Paul's bill to repeal it. It's time for Republican leaders in Congress to put the American people and the Constitution at the top of their list of priorities.

Tom DeWeese is the president of the American Policy Center, a grass roots, activist think tank headquartered in Herndon, Virginia. The Center publishes a monthly newsletter, The DeWeese Report and maintains an Internet web site, www.americanpolicy.org.


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