For several decades now, proposals to establish a national identification system have periodically arisen. Although they have taken various forms, including a uniform driver’s license system and the E-Verify national employment database, all suffer from the same flaws: They would be ineffective, would provide a new avenue for racial and ethnic profiling, and would create a system of internal passports that would imperil privacy and civil liberties.
The ACLU is at the forefront of the fight to protect basic American values of privacy and the “right to be left alone” in the face of these proposals. We have appeared numerous times in court, before U.S. Congress, and before federal and state government agencies to explain the serious civil liberties concerns with a national ID and to demonstrate that the false sense of security produced by such proposals will rob other, more effective security and counterterrorism measures of needed resources.
The dramatic advances in computing technology over even just the past decade mean that the government has much more power today in collecting, storing, and analyzing information about all of us. A national ID system, especially if linked with other government databases, can paint a picture in fine-grained detail about where we go, who we talk to, where we worship, and where we stand on sensitive political issues, among many other sensitive data points.
As a nation, we live by the principle that the government should not be able to collect such information without cause. A national ID system turns that fundamental principle on its head. We must continue to support basic freedoms and protect against our becoming a country where the government can demand, “Papers, please.”