and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
January 2002 #4

With national ID, government can track
'every move you make ... every game you play'

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem Evening News
Monday, January 21, 2002

Every breath you take, every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take
I'll be watching you
Every single day, every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay
I'll be watching you

"Every Breath You Take" -- The Police (1995)

My name is Barbara. I am an original, unique person. And, I have a Social Security Account Number (SSAN) to keep track of my contributions toward retirement, a driver's license to prove I once took a driver's test and can be trusted operating a car, a phone number that lets me reach out and touch someone or rent a video, and a credit card number that lets me charge a purchase until the end of the month.

Or, I am "123-45-6789." Put my card in a machine and you will know my name, address, age, net worth, taste in videos and books, food and clothing purchases, health concerns, fingerprints, DNA, and general whereabouts at any given time.

You will also know that I am not wanted by the police, FBI or CIA, am not an illegal alien or a deadbeat parent. You'll feel safe from terrorists and fraud -- unless terrorists take over the government, or a thief steals your identity when he steals your wallet.

Of course "a national ID card can never happen." Back when the Social Security Act was passed in 1934, Americans were promised that unlike dictatorships which required their subjects to carry identification "papers," our government would always protect our privacy; our SSAN would never be used for identification. And when our state government put it on our driver's license anyhow later in the century, concerns about stolen identity quickly allowed consumers to choose a different, random number if they wanted. That number is still connected by computer to our SSAN, but so what: If you can't trust your state law enforcement agency, whom can you trust?

Recently, all 50 states agreed to cooperate with the federal government on an upgrade of driver's license security features to help in fighting terrorism. Our state legislators didn't vote on this, for the same reason that Congress won't vote to create a national ID card: When it was attempted a few years ago, there was a public outcry and there is still a sense among our elected officials that most Americans don't want to become a number.

So instead of having another debate on the subject, the federal bureaucrats let the state bureaucrats choose to cooperate -- or lose highway funds. Now states are seeking funding from the feds to study ways to put "biometrics" -- our fingerprints and other digitized data -- on the license and make it compatible with licenses in other states.

Despite the long-ago promise of our federal government, we will all someday be one big happy connected family: Yes, you 987-65-4321; me, and all the other numbers.

Maybe this doesn't bother you. Maybe you didn't read Orwell's "1984" when you were an impressionable teen-ager. Or if you did, your literal mind tells you it's 2002 now; guess we dodged THAT bullet!

Maybe you never watched the TV series "The Prisoner", about a man who refused to be a number but couldn't escape because "they" used technology to track his whereabouts. Or read a Dean Koontz novel in which the good guys, ordinary people like us, manage to evade the suddenly hostile government by changing their identities. Or listened with empathy to Bob Seeger screaming "I feel like a number, feel like a number, feel like a stranger, a stranger in this land."

Maybe you think that, like a terrorist attack, it can't happen here. This country, unlike so many others, can never be controlled by the kind of people who crave power and define it as the ability to make you do what they want.

Just because we are presently surrounded by liberals who want to redistribute unlimited amounts of our money, intellectuals who want us to think and speak with their version of political correctness, and busybodies who make regulations that infringe on our personal choices, is no reason to fear their access to a centralized database that tells them all about us. Or is it?

They ask us, in all reasonableness: Why not have a national database that uses the SSAN to keep track of all us Americans? If we're not doing anything wrong, why do we care if the government knows "every step we take, every move we make?"

I care, because my name is Barbara; I am not a number.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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