April 20, 2010
by John Whitehead
“This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.” ~ Revelation 13:18
As technology grows more sophisticated and the government and its corporate allies further refine their methods of keeping tabs on the American people, those of us who treasure privacy increasingly find ourselves engaged in a struggle to maintain our freedoms in the midst of the modern surveillance state.
Just consider the many ways we’re already being monitored and tracked: through our Social Security numbers, bank accounts, purchases and electronic transactions; by way of our correspondence and communications devices – email, phone calls and mobile phones; through chips implanted in our vehicles, identification documents, even our clothing. Data corporations are capturing vast caches of personal information on you so that airports, retailers, police and other government authorities can instantly identify and track you. Add to this the fact that businesses, schools and other facilities are relying more and more on fingerprints and facial recognition to identify us. All the while, banks and other financial institutions must verify the identities of new customers and make such records of customer transactions available to the police and government officials upon request.
In recent years, this information glut has converged into a mandate for a national ID card, which came to a head with Congress’ passage of the REAL ID Act in 2005. REAL ID requires states to issue machine-readable drivers’ licenses containing a wealth of personal data. However, because the REAL ID Act has been opposed by many states due to its cost and implementation, we have yet to be subjected to a nationwide implementation of a national ID card. That may all change depending on what happens with the immigration reform bill now before Congress.
A centerpiece of the immigration bill as proposed by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is a requirement that all U.S. workers, citizen and resident alike, be required to obtain and carry biometric Social Security cards (national ID cards under a different name) in order to work within the United States. Attempting to appease critics of a national ID card, Schumer and Graham insist that “no government database would house everyone’s information” and that the “cards would not contain any private information, medical information, or tracking devices.” However, those claims are blatantly false. Indeed, this proposed biometric card is nothing more than an end-run around opposition to a national ID card.
Civil and privacy rights advocates, as well as liberal-, conservative-, and libertarian-leaning organizations, have long raised concerns that a national ID card would enable the government to track citizens and, thus, jeopardize the privacy rights of Americans. President Reagan likened a 1981 proposal to the biblical “mark of the beast,” and President Clinton dismissed a similar plan because it smacked of Big Brother.
Most recently, The Rutherford Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union, along with a host of other organizations, voiced their opposition to the biometric ID card. In a letter to both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate Judiciary Committees, Senate Finance Committee, House Ways and Means Committee and the White House, this coalition of groups declared that such a national ID card would “not only violate privacy by helping to consolidate data and facilitate tracking of individuals, it would bring government into the very center of our lives by serving as a government permission slip needed by everyone in order to work. As happened with Social Security cards decades ago, use of such ID cards would quickly spread and be used for other purposes – from travel to voting to gun ownership.” And the national biometric ID card would “require the creation of a bureaucracy that combines the worst elements of the Transportation Security Administration and state Motor Vehicle Departments.”
At a minimum, these proposed cards will contain a memory device that stores distinct – and highly personal – physical or biological information unique to the cardholder such as fingerprints, retina scan information, a mapping of the veins on the top of your hand, and so on. Eventually, other information, such as personal business and financial data, will probably also be stored on these cards. For the cards to be effective, an information storage system and central database, which will be managed by the government and its corporate handlers, will be required. That means a lot of taxpayer dollars will be used to create the ultimate tracking device to be used against American citizens.
As journalist Megan Carpentier reports, “The federal government wants to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and force employees and employers still suffering from a recession to do the same, to create and make accessible to every employer a national database of the fingerprints of all Americans from the time they are 14 years old. And they want to do it in order to keep an estimated 11.9 million unauthorized immigrants – less than 4 percent of the total population of the United States – from accessing the job market.” Under threat of substantial fines by the government and in what promises to be a cumbersome, bureaucratic process, employers will have to purchase ID card scanning devices (or visit their local DMV) in order to scan the cards of every individual they wish to hire before that individual can be employed. What this amounts to, essentially, is a troubling system in which all Americans would have to get clearance from the federal government in order to get a job.
Furthermore, the law’s requirement that machine-readable technology be incorporated into the card opens the door for radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to be placed on the cards. RFID is a tiny, automatic identification system that enables data – in this case the private information of American citizens – to be transmitted by a portable device. This will provide the government with unprecedented access to American citizens’ personal information. In addition, RFID tags emit radio frequency signals that allow the government to track the movement of the cards, as well as the cardholders. In other words, wherever your card goes, so do the government monitors.
When all is said and done, the adoption of a national biometric ID card serves one purpose only: to provide the government with the ultimate control over the American people. As one commentator has remarked, this is a “naked government power grab.”
The time to resist is now. If we don’t, eventually, we will all have to possess one of these cards in order to be a functioning citizen in American society. Failing to have a biometric card will render you a non-person for all intents and purposes. Your whole life will depend on this card – your ability to work, travel, buy, sell, access health care, and so on.
What we used to call science fiction is now reality. And whether a national ID card is the mark of the Beast or the long arm of Big Brother, the outcome remains the same.