UK Moves Toward National ID Rollout

Opponents say the U.S. is also intent on creating a citizen database with Real ID.

The British Government won't back down on its controversial plan to implement a national identification card system with data on every citizen, resident and long-term visitor stored on a single government database.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said March 6 the program will start with foreign nationals this year and work its way over the next three years to British airport workers and others in potentially terrorist-targeted positions, students and youth, and finally the rest of the population.

Her message and the movement have security and privacy experts and advocates wondering where this will happen next. Could the United States be headed down the same documented path?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has shied away from the term "national identification card," but the program it is perusing is similar to that of the UK. Opponents to the program, like the Electronic Privacy Information Center, say the Real ID Act, passed in 2005, amounts to a mandatory national identification card, regardless of the nomenclature used. The Act compels states to comply with a federal mandate to begin to redesign their driver's license systems by 2009. Part of that redesign includes electronically collecting and storing citizen information, and then having each state share the information with other states by linking databases. Federal agencies will have access to the states' databases.

"We do believe that Real ID creates a fundamental infrastructure for a national ID system, so we do believe it is a national ID card," said Melissa Ngo, director of the EPIC Identification and Surveillance Project in Washington, D.C. "The DHS has come out and said very clearly in the Real ID regulations that they want Real ID to be used for everything. Secretary [Michael] Chertoff, in an Op Ed piece, said it would be used as a baby sitter-so beyond getting an account at a bank, getting on an airplane, getting into a courthouse he sees it going into your private life to check on your baby sitter."

Ngo said that the reason DHS is so interested in having a federal ID card is it makes it so much easier to track people-the idea being that if a person is known, then they won't commit criminal acts. "Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber are two people that would have gotten a national ID card. But they were still criminals. It's a huge fallacy that if you know the name of every individual out there then you know whether or not they will chose to harm you or the country."

Others-the U.S. State Department and the UK Home Office for starters-contend that a better way to identify citizens is necessary, particularly after terrorist attacks in both countries.