THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 160, February 11, 2002
Cetius, Altius, Fortius
National ID: I Just Can't Do It - Part 2
by Joel Simon
Exclusive to TLE
Would you like to hear the most chilling sentence in the English language? I'll share it with you. Sit down.
"If you don't have anything to hide, why would you object?"
Well, here's why. We don't control the definitions of hot-button words. They are controlled for us. Labels are powerful weapons in the hands of those who control opinions.
What is a "terrorist"? The word brings to mind the Red Brigade, or the Shining Path, or Osama Bin Ladin. People who use fear to impose their own political aims. Is the IRS a terrorist organization? The DEA? No? Why not? They use the same methods, achieve the same ends. Ask any Branch Davidian you happen to meet whether the BATF and FBI are terrorists. But they're not terrorists, of course, because we've been told that they're not. The Afghanis who were shipped to Guantanamo marine base are terrorists, we're told. I'd bet that some are the same individuals who fought off the Russians with such ferocity, ten years ago. Back then, they were heroes.
Are you a terrorist? If you're reading this at all, you might be. Do you have political views that others regard with fear? After all, "we have a right to feel safe." You hear that phrase time and time again.
If you believe in the right to keep and bear arms you are violating what others view as their right to "feel safe" and you are, in the opinion of some, a terrorist. The mere fact that you might WANT to own a gun fills them with terror.
If you believe that Americans can live more happily outside the benevolent guidance and generosity of government you are violating what others view as the right to a "social safety net" and you are, in the opinion of some, a terrorist.
The claimed benefits of a national ID card are that it would make it easier to identify and apprehend terrorists and other criminals. By making it impossible to move around without constantly establishing your status with a centralized data base, it just might. But who decides who's a terrorist? What acts are considered criminal? It's a moving target, and it's moving your way. Are you sure you're not a criminal? Have you ever failed to file a tax return? Have you been accused of missing a child support payment? Ever had a NICS background check "disapprove a firearm transaction"? Are you on the subscriber list of a newsletter or magazine that's being investigated or monitored by the feds? It's all in some database someplace, pal. The only defense you've had against it up till now is that it's all so scattered that only a really dedicated FBI data geek could pull it all together. That, like so many other things, is about to change.
For that matter, can you depend on that damn National Database to get its facts straight? The error rate (never in your favor) of national credit reporting databases is appalling. Think the feds can do a better job? Wanna buy a bridge?
On October 13, Alan Dershowitz wrote an article entitled "Why Fear National ID Cards?" He compared national ID cards to those transponders you can get so you don't have to stop at toll booths. He said the trade-off of "a little less anonymity for a lot more security" was a good thing. He spake unto us the classic quote, "From a civil liberties perspective, I prefer a system that takes a little bit of freedom from all to one that takes a great deal of freedom and dignity from the few [who might otherwise be subjected to racial or ethnic profiling]." I barely raised an eyebrow - you expect Alan Dershowitz to say things like that, the same way you expect Fidel Castro to smoke cigars.
But yesterday I saw a column by Mona Charon, a conservative writer I normally enjoy reading and even occasionally agree with, entitled "For National ID Cards". I'm tempted to think she plagiarized Dershowitz: "A modern society cannot function without some form of identity papers. Ours could not and does not." "... with 50 states issuing driver's licenses and no central data bank to compare licensees, it is possible - in fact easy - to get any number of different, legitimate-looking aliases in America." "... It makes it nearly impossible to track those who enter the country illegally, or those who enter legally and then overstay their visas." "A national ID would make it easier to track individuals who enter the country on student or tourist visas and overstay their welcome."
And finally, chillingly, "The feared loss of liberty in a national ID is trifling, while the potential gain in security is substantial."
Trifling? To whom? Not to me, Mona. To me, it gets right to the heart of the matter. I don't want to be "tracked". Cattle are tracked. Sheep are tracked. Americans are supposed to be free men and women, it says here. You want me to wear an electronic tether because you're afraid of foreigners? My great-great-grandfather was born here.
"Those who would sacrifice essential liberties for temporary safety deserve neither freedom nor safety," said Ben Franklin. What the hell happened to those words I was taught were so sacred?
Okay, here's the bottom line and then I'll shut up. Everybody's got something he just can't do, and this is mine. I see this national ID thing as an inevitability, and I don't think I can bring myself to comply with it. I try to bend with the law, but if I bend this far I'll break. The time is at hand to either close your mouth and get in line, or - do what? I don't know what to do.