The REAL problem: identity inflation
One of the problems with a compulsory national ID system- including a de facto one like REAL ID- is “identity inflation” or sometimes also referred to as “identity creep.”
Since everyone has a gold standard ID, government and businesses find it easier and easier to require one. Soon, situations that previously required only lower quality proof of identity or no identity at all, now require an ID card. Government and businesses find that they have an increasing number of problems that the ID card can “solve.”
There are certainly examples of this happening before. The British ID cards went from 3 functions during World War II to 39 by the time it was abolished.
There are certainly examples of this happening now. In the final regulations, the Department of Homeland Security limited the required use of REAL ID to just three situations: boarding commercial airplanes, entering federal buildings, and entering nuclear power plants. However, only five days later, a senior official from that agency floated the idea of making customers show a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license to purchase over-the-counter cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine to combat illegal drug production.
The senior official went on to say, “The last thing I want to talk about, and very briefly, is the civil liberties objections to REAL ID, because I don’t understand them.” What a gem. He probably doesn’t realise just how accurate his words were! In any case, irony is hardly a strong suite for most government types.
Interestingly, in a generally pro-REAL ID article in Time, this was the one issue over which some concern was expressed, “The great leap forward from a longer arm for the law to “1984” will have to be made by the private sector. How well a watchful federal government will actually be able to track its citizens will depend on how many places demand to see your driver’s license. Airports already do. So do some supermarkets, if you’re buying beer. But what about malls? Movie theaters? Sports stadiums?”
A final perspective of identity inflation comes from, where else, the UK. Identity inflation is also about having more and more information held about people. Currently, the law specifies 50 categories of information that the National Identity Register can hold on each citizen. Why not, gradually, increase that? After all, what’s a few more pieces of information? All for the greater good, the public interest, and all the right stuff. Government’s got a problem to solve? Let’s store that one piece more of information that will “solve” the problem.
As I’ve said before, my opinion is that the REAL problem is more Franz Kafka than George Orwell.