WWW Opinion Times

Friday, February 11, 2005

First Steps Toward a Big Brother State

I have always believed that one of the great strengths of this country is the self-policing nature of our social character. Thus, policemen need only intervene when we are unable to police the problem ourselves through outmoded concepts like discipline and shame. I believe this applies to times when terrorists might seek to violently intervene in our way of life. Though surely helped by geography, the American people have done a wonderful job of protecting themselves with relatively sparse government control. Unfortunately, this Republican Congress doesn't see it that way.

The U.S. House approved electronic ID card requirements today.
The measure, called the Real ID Act, says that driver's licenses and other ID cards must include a digital photograph, anticounterfeiting features and undefined "machine-readable technology, with defined minimum data elements" that could include a magnetic strip or RFID tag. The Department of Homeland Security would be charged with drafting the details of the regulation.
This Act, by mandating state compliance, could easily lay the groundwork for a National ID Card. This is anathema to civil liberties. It is hard to imagine that our Founding Fathers could have countenanced such a thing had such technologies been available at the time, and more to the point; had they been available, they most certainly would have been employed by Great Britain to require compliance to, say, The Stamp Act and the regulation of importation of goods. Would it not also be evident that personal ID's would have been employed after such dastardly acts as the Boston Tea Party?

A reality check on this issue came from an unlikely source as we read further:
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat from Washington, D.C., charged that Republicans were becoming hypocrites by trampling on states' rights. "I thought the other side of the aisle extols federalism at all times," Norton said. "Yes, even in hard times, even when you're dealing with terrorism. So what's happening now? Why are those who speak up for states whenever it strikes their fancy doing this now?"
I frankly couldn't agree more. This is certaily not Reaganesque Federalism. And the Republican Party doesn't need to be exposing a weakness clearly evident to the left.

I will be publishing an analysis of the dangers RFID technology and it's potential effects on personal freedom in an upcoming article.
UPDATE: Poliblog references my article here. He wonders what relevance ID cards would have had around the time of the Revolution or specifically the Boston Tea Party. It is in the sense that certainly Great Britain would have greatly benefited by traking movement or communication between the colonies. This would likely have killed the Committees on Correspondence which was the main communication channel between representative bodies in the colonies (e.g. blogs!). Also, this technology could easily have been incorporated in the Stamp Act using RFID devices as we do for inventory items today. Much personal information can be kept in them, and because the "stamps" used then were placed on documents, they would have been more easily subject to review and censure while tracking tendencies of individuals with no political recourse to protect privacy or commerce.

The point is this. The Founding Fathers succeeded because before government coercion got out of hand, they took quick action. And after the situation became untenable, Great Britian did not have the technological means to clamp down which they certainly would have used. I believe our current technology does provide a way for government misdeeds against personal liberty. And I further maintain that no further use of ID technology are necessary to maintain the current order but are specifically troublesome to the concept of personal liberty.