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The National ID

By Roy D. Follendore III

Copyright (c) 2001 by RDFollendoreIII


September 28, 2001

I understand that President Bush has just decided that he will not support a National ID card system and even though I am a cryptographer who could utilize the technology I am pretty happy about his decision.  I happen to know a thing or two about the subject and what I know tells me that such a system would not work.  It would not work for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it represents a positive failure mode.  As a security professional I can assure you that no system is foolproof.  If such a system were broken, it would open gaping holes that don't exist today.  Your Doctor will tell you that pain is your friend.  It prevents you from putting your hand in a fire and it tells you that something is wrong.  Completely bypass the concept of pain and you can get all kinds of physical problems.  Skepticism is also our friend.  Make something "foolproof" and you are sure to be generating new fools.  Become too dependent on a foolproof ID scheme and you have developed false confidence. It is just a matter of time.

I said that there were a couple of things and this is the second issue.  All human beings have personal things that they would rather keep private. Privacy, not secrecy is the true basis upon which security operates.  There are two essential reasons for keeping things secret and those reasons have to do with the concepts of effectiveness and efficiency. One can easily see this in WWII. The allies wanted to keep the news that we were intercepting and breaking NAZI messages secret.  The reason for secrecy was that making the enemy aware would affect the effective and efficient prosecution of the war effort.  In other words, the war would take much longer, cost much more and cause far more casualties. In a similar vein personal privacy has exactly the same effect on people's personal lives.  

There are a variety of reasons why privacy is important to individuals.  Some of these reasons are competitive, others are personal, others are potentially life threatening.  Private things are generally made and kept private for personal reasons that somehow affect the individual.  But the secrets of mankind exist within a universe of competitive justifications. The fact is that individual people may be willing to communicate private facts and ideas if their personal effectiveness and efficiency is not affected. The decision as to what information should be private therefore all starts with the concept of anonymity.  The last twenty years our society has become less tolerant, not more tolerant of human faults. Over time people can and do dramatically change their lives and privacy is required to allow that to happen. Throughout their lives, human beings need the privacy that only arrives through anonymity. 

Therefore if the objective of mankind is to create a free and open society so that mankind can progress then the National ID system is the opposite direction to where we must go.  To close the door to anonymity is to close the door to such an open society.  This is exactly what a National ID system would do.

To make a National ID system would certainly make it easier for computers to manage people because computers would be able to symbolically represent individuals.  But doing so as a requirement to exist as a citizen would put people on the level of machines and that would empower machines over the human race. We should rightfully fear this proposition if for no other reason than the fact that machines are as fallible as mankind's ability to create them. 




Copyright (c) 2001-2007 RDFollendoreIII All Rights Reserved