February 11, 2002
President George W. Bush
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Bush:
We, representing a broad and diverse coalition of national organizations, urge the Administration to oppose the attempts of state motor vehicle officials to create a national identification system (national ID) through the bureaucratic back door of state drivers' licenses.
One reaction to the terrible events of September 11 was renewed discussion about instituting a national ID card as a counter-terrorism measure. The creation of a national ID card or system is a misplaced, superficial "quick fix" to the terrorist threat. A national ID system would not effectively deter terrorists and, instead, would pose serious threats to the rights of freedom and equality of everyone in the United States.
Although national ID proposals received fierce debate in the fall, the Administration and Congress wisely rejected them. Direct passage of a national ID card, however, is only one possible path to such a system. A national ID would more likely evolve bureaucratically through existing forms of ID, such as state drivers' licenses.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) is urging the federal government to fund and authorize a proposal to standardize state drivers' licenses. This plan would establish a national ID and an unparalleled system of personal information sharing.
We urge you to reject this proposal because:
A national ID would not prevent terrorism. An identity card is only as good as the information that establishes identity in the first place. Terrorists and criminals will continue to be able to obtain -- by legal and illegal means -- the documents needed to get a government ID, such as birth certificates and social security numbers. A national ID would create a false sense of security because it would enable individuals with an ID -- who may in fact be terrorists -- to avoid heightened security measures.
A national ID would depend on a massive bureaucracy that would limit our basic freedoms. A national ID system would depend on both the issuance of an ID card and the integration of huge amounts of personal information included in state and federal government databases. One employee mistake, an underlying database error rate, or common fraud could take away an individual's ability to move freely from place to place or even make them unemployable until the government fixed their "file." Anyone who has attempted to fix errors in their credit report can imagine the difficulty of causing an over-extended government agency such as the department of motor vehicles to correct a mistake that precludes a person from getting a valid ID.
A national ID would be expensive and direct resources away from other more effective counter-terrorism measures. The costs of a national ID system have been estimated at as much as $9 billion. Even more troubling, a national ID system mandated through state agencies would burden states who may have more effective ways to fight terrorism and strengthen ID systems.
A national ID would both contribute to identity fraud and make it more difficult to remedy. Americans have consistently rejected the idea of a national ID and limited the uses of data collected by the government. In the 1970s, both the Nixon and Carter Administrations rejected the use of social security numbers as a uniform identifier because of privacy concerns. A national ID would be "one stop shopping" for perpetrators of identity theft who usually use social security numbers and birth certificates for false IDs (not drivers' licenses). Even with a biometric identifier, such as a fingerprint, on each and every ID, there is no guarantee that individuals won't be identified - or misidentified - in error. The accuracy of biometric technology varies depending on the type and implementation. And, it would be even more difficult to remedy identity fraud when a thief has a National ID card with your name on it, but his biometric identifier.
A national ID could require all Americans to carry an internal passport at all times, compromising our privacy, limiting our freedom, and exposing us to unfair discrimination based on national origin or religion. Once government databases are integrated through a uniform ID, access to and uses of sensitive personal information would inevitably expand. Law enforcement, tax collectors, and other government agencies would want use of the data. Employers, landlords, insurers, credit agencies, mortgage brokers, direct mailers, private investigators, civil litigants, and a long list of other private parties would also begin using the ID and even the database, further eroding the privacy that Americans rightly expect in their personal lives. It would take us even further toward a surveillance society that would significantly diminish the freedom and privacy of law-abiding people in the United States. A national ID would foster new forms of discrimination and harassment. The ID could be used to stop, question, or challenge anyone perceived as looking or sounding "foreign" or individuals of a certain religious affiliation.
The Fiscal Year 2002 House Transportation Appropriations' report encourages the Department to study and define "the types of encoded data that should be placed on drivers' licenses for security purposes, and to work in concert with the states toward early implementation of such measures." These guidelines could be the first step toward federal involvement in the standardization of state drivers' licenses and the implementation of a national ID. We urge you to make recommendations that would provide the states with a series of security options rather than one uniform standard that could lead to a national ID.
We urge the Administration to reject national ID systems in any form. The Administration should not take any steps to implement such a system or fund any proposals that would result in a national ID, including the study or development of standardized state drivers' licenses.
There are more effective methods to prevent terrorism that would not impact the liberty interests of Americans.
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
American Civil Liberties Union
American Conservative Union
American Immigration Lawyers Association
American Legislative Exchange Council
American Policy Center
Americans for Tax Reform
Arab American Institute
Center for Democracy and Technology
Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms
Citizens' Council on Health Care
Coalitions for America
Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering
Council on American Islamic Relations
Electronic Privacy and Information Center
Free Congress Foundation
Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quaker)
God Bless America
Home School Legal Defense Association
Japanese American Citizens League
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
Life Coalition International
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Multiracial Activist and Abolitionist Examiner
National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium
National Conference of State Legislatures
National Consumers League
National Council of La Raza
National Vaccine Information Center
Organization of Chinese Americans
Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education
People Against Church Taxation
People for the American Way
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
cc: United States House of Representatives
United States Senate