Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Traffic Stop: Car Registration and National ID Card Please

Many anti-immigrant groups have embraced the use of a National ID card as another means to enforce immigration laws. The U.S. has long resisted such a measure as an unnecessary infringement on civil liberties and personal privacy. Congress has however passed legislation that would make such a national ID a reality. The U.S. Congress has passed the REAL ID Act of 2005, which mandates federal requirements for driver's licenses. Critics point out that it would make driver's licenses into de facto national IDs. The Department of Homeland Security has already signaled its intent to make wide use of the card for a wide variety of purposes.

Secretary Chertoff indicated that the REAL ID card would be used for a wide variety of purposes, unrelated to the law that authorized the system, including employment verification and immigration determination. He also indicated that the agency would not prevent the use of the card by private parties for non-government purposes. As part of the cost-saving effort, Homeland Security has decided not to encrypt the data that will be stored on the card.

In an opinion column written by Secretary Chertoff after the publication of the final rule, he said, "embracing REAL ID" would mean it would be used to "cash a check, hire a baby sitter, board a plane or engage in countless other activities." The technology already exists to encode such a card with vast amounts of information and to tie the card to a wide array of databases. Imagine, a traffic stop where your “driver’s license” card does not merely indicate whether you have a valid driver’s license and any outstanding warrants. The card would indicate your social security number, whether you are late on child support payments, all previous residences, books and videos that you checked out, rented or purchased, internet-browsing habits, amount of liquor purchased, credit report, associations to which you belong, your religion and places you have recently visited. Needless to say the card would be encoded with your fingerprint for quick identification.

Soon after the 2001 World Center attacks, Larry Ellison, head of California-based software company Oracle Corporation, called for the development of a national identification system and offered to donate the technology to make this possible. He proposed ID cards with embedded digitized thumbprints and photographs of all legal residents in the U.S.

Such a card could track your movements as easily as a turnpike pass. Should you wish to enter any Federal or State government building, the card would be required for entry and would immediately disclose all of the foregoing information. It is a given that any technology once unleashed will not be contained. Any and all foreseeable uses that such a card carries will be too tempting to both government and private agencies to forego. Just think of the multitude of uses made with your social security number.

As if the Real ID Act of 2005 were not enough, anti-immigrant advocates are now wanting to expand Federal power in the workplace in the form of the Save Act of 2007 which would require employers to verify 130 million workers against a Social Security database over the next four years. The Save Act and the the Real ID Act have been opposed by numerous civil rights groups. The Electronic Privacy Information Center has come out strongly against the Real ID Act:

EPIC explained that the Department of Homeland Security's REAL ID system includes few protections for individual privacy and security in its massive national identification database. It harms national security by creating yet another "trusted" credential for criminals to exploit. The Department of Homeland Security has faced so many obstacles with the REAL ID system that the agency now plans an implementation deadline of 2017 -- nine years later than the 2008 statutory deadline. It is an unfunded mandate that would cost billions, with the burden ultimately being placed on the individual taxpayer.

Technical experts familiar with the challenges of privacy protection and identification presented the Department of Homeland Security with a variety of recommendations that would have minimized the risks of the REAL ID system. The DHS made some modifications, but left the essential system in place. As REAL ID currently stands, the costs are many and the benefits are few. EPIC also detailed the State rebellion against REAL ID.


Civil rights and civil liberties groups have come out against the these two pieces of legislation including, The National Council of Jewish Women, the ACLU, The Church World Service, The American Immigration Lawyers Association, The Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform, The American Jewish Committee, HIAS, as well as employer groups, The Society of American Florists, The Associated General Contractors of America and unions such as The Service Employees International Union. One need not be pro-immigrant to oppose such burdensome and overbearing legislation. Clearly, Congress and the Federal Government has overstepped its bounds and is threatening long-cheris hed civil rights and liberties.

Separately, the secret court questioned if the FBI was using pen register orders to collect digits dialed after a call is made, potentially including voicemail passwords and account numbers entered into bank-by-phone applications.

Using a pen register order, the FBI can force a phone company to turn over records of who a person calls, or is called by, simply by asserting the information would be relevant to an investigation. But existing case law holds that those so-called "post-cut-through dialed digits" count as the content of a communication, and thus to collect that information, the FBI would need to get a full-blown wiretapping warrant based on probable cause.

On August 7 2006, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly took the extraordinary step of ordering the FBI to report (.pdf) on how its sophisticated phone wiretapping system, known as Digital Collection System, handled those extra digits and whether it stored them in a centralized data-mining depository known as Telephone Application.

The documents (.pdf) show that the majority of FBI offices surveyed internally were collecting that information without full-blown wiretap orders, especially in classified investigations. The documents also indicate that the information was being uploaded to the FBI's central repository for wiretap recordings and phone records, where analysts can data-mine the records for decades.

Clearly, the FBI has been using the panoply of electronic surveillance techniques at its disposal. For example, your movements can now be tracked simply by obtaining your cell phone number. Wired Magazine has written of the abuses carried out by U.S. Intelligence agencies against U.S. citizens. You can check out other articles, here, here, here,here,here and here.

The Electronic Fronteir Foundation has done an excellent job of reporting on govenment abuses and collecting government documents via FOIA requests and litigation. It is time for concerned citizens to push back and rein in the unbridled powers ceded to Federal agencies by chicken hawks who treat this country like some third world autocracy.

No comments: