IDs - Not That Easy: Questions About Nationwide Identity Systems

Privacy and Security

Article Snapshot


Lynette I. Millett and Deirdre Mulligan


Stephen T. Kent and Lynette I. Millett, eds., Committee on Authentication Technologies and their Privacy Implications, National Research Council, National Academies Press, 2002


This report looks at proposals to create a national identity card for people in the United States.

Policy Relevance

A national identity card that was secure against fraud would be costly and technically difficult to create, and should not be done unless a compelling case is made for it.

Main Points

  • After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, several proposals for national identity systems, a “national ID,” were put forward, perhaps in the hope of help track or monitor individuals to prevent crime.

  • These systems would be costly and have serious implications for privacy. Alternatives should be considered, and a system should only be adopted if a very compelling case can be made for it.

  • A national ID would have to provide much better protection against identity theft than current systems.

  • To resist fraud, a national identity card would need to include biometric data, not just a picture. But setting up such a system would be costly and difficult.

  • Once the goals of a nationwide system were agreed upon, public review with input from all interested groups and communities would be important.

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