Tom Ridge, Security Guru Disagree on National ID Card

Attendees of the Infosecurity computer security conference in New York heard both sides of the debate on U.S. national identification cards this week. On Wednesday, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge told conference attendees that a national ID card was an inevitability; the next day the show’s other keynote speaker, Counterpane Internet Security Inc. Chief Technical Officer Bruce Schneier, claimed that it was a bad idea.

"I think it’s expensive, and it won’t make us safer," Schneier said. "Yes, you’ve got a valid ID. All the 9/11 terrorists had a valid ID."

Schneier said that the complexity of maintaining a national database would be overwhelming, and could ultimately make the U.S. less secure. "Once you start looking at the entire system, you realize it’s a nightmare."

Ridge, in contrast, said that national security requirements would ultimately make such cards a reality. He said that he hoped the controversial topic would be the subject of a civil debate between lawmakers. "We’re going to need to deal with questions like the national ID," he said. Ultimately, such a card would "evolve" into existence, he predicted.

One conference attendee said that a new federal identification requirement, outlined in an August 2004 executive order from President George Bush, could be the first step in this evolution.

Though they are just starting to emerge now, once products that meet this new federal requirement are commercially available, they will "most likely" be adopted in corporate environments, said George Fitel, vice president of feasibility and assessment for Wavera, a security research firm based in Chicago.

Though there is strong political opposition to the idea of a national ID card in the U.S. right now, Fitel, like Ridge, said he believes that the idea will ultimately be adopted. "Politics are always going to be changing. There are certain things that are going to rise above politics," he said.

Schneier, for his part, said that simplicity was the key to security. Simplicity is something that should be embraced by the entire security industry, not just the proponents of a national ID card, he added.

When a conference attendee asked him what role user education should play in computer security, Schneier called the education issue "over-rated," and said that computer products should be simple enough that education becomes a non-issue. "When we say we must educate a user, we’re covering up for a failure in our systems," he said.

"We have convinced the world that everybody needs a computer," Schneier added. "And at the same time, we’ve made computers so hard to maintain that if you don’t have a sysadmin, you’re doomed. You can’t have it both ways. It’s either a end-user, consumer item or it’s not."

By Robert McMillan - IDG News Service (San Francisco Bureau)

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