• United States



by Jon Surmacz

Will National ID Cards Make Us More Secure?

May 12, 20052 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

The question, “May I see some ID?” is about to get a lot more complicated.

On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed the Real ID Act, paving the way for President Bush to sign it into law later this month. The law states, in effect, that in May 2008 (three years after passage), Americans will need to get a federally approved ID card. These new ID cards must have “machine readable” technology built into them, as described by the Department of Homeland Security. The new ID cards will be required for Americans to board a plane or train, open a bank account or enter federal buildings.

Those in support of the bill, such as sponsor Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), say the legislation will make it more difficult for terrorists to establish identities in the United States. The Real ID act was part of an unrelated $82 billion military spending bill, which opponents claim had much to do with its passage. The House gave its OK May 5 with a vote of 368 in favor, 58 opposed. President Bush has indicated that he will sign the legislation.

In most cases, this national ID will come in the form of your state driver’s license. This is not surprising. Driver’s licenses have been evolving in to de facto ID cards for a long time. We use them to prove our age and identity when purchasing alcohol or tobacco. We use them at airport security checks. Under the new law, driver’s licenses will have to meet standards that the Department of Homeland Security will define.

Privacy advocates decry the measure because they fear it will make identity theft easier. Every time the card is swept for verification, the data will end up on a computer in a bank, government office or possibly a retail store. Those systems are susceptible to viruses and other hacks. Bruce Schneier, CTO of Counterpane Internet Security, wrote in his blog that the move is nothing more than a power-grab by the federal government over states’ systems for issuing driver’s licenses. National IDs, he says, will actually make us less secure.

So who is right? Will a national ID card make life difficult for terrorists? Or will they put our lives, and our identities, at greater risk?