May 17 2007

What’s the risk of a national ID card?

Some people don’t understand why we oppose a national ID card. “It’s just a piece of paper,” they say. “What does it matter?”

Historian and law professor Eric Muller of the University of North Carolina has been trying to find out exactly what happened to his great-uncle Leopold Muller, who was deported from his home in Germany in 1942 and never heard from again by those of his family who survived. Most likely, he was eventually murdered at the death camp called Belzec.

Recently, in the course of his research, Eric found his Uncle Leopold’s German national ID card. He also found his Uncle Leopold’s medals for his service in the German army in World War I, during which he lost the use of one arm. But his Kemmkarte identified him boldly on the cover as Jew, not a decorated war veteran. Perhaps that’s why he arrived at the “evacuation” center without his ID card:

The Jew Leopold Israel Müller … will be evacuated to the East on April 25, 1942. He alleges that on April 24, 1942, he lost the kennkarte that he formerly had in his possession…. Müller is therefore without identification papers.

Was the ID card “just a piece of paper” to the Nazis? Was it sufficient that they had the person they wanted in their custody, and would soon send him to his death? No. They immedietely sent the police to search his empty house, find his kennkarte, and dutifully forward it after him (although by the time it arrived, he had been sent on, presumably to his death). The card itself mattered. To “lose” the card was, perhaps, to escape the fatal consequences of the definition it imposed.

Eric tells the story much more eloquently than we could. But what we think is noteworthy in contemporary context is the importance the national ID card played in defining the individual, and involuntarily binding the actual person to the designation (in his case, “Jew”) and categorization imposed on him by the government.

We are people, entitled to define (and redefine) ourselves. We are not, and we should not be, “identified” solely by which pigeon-hole(s) a government decides to put us in.

May 17 2007

GAO confirms IDP complaints that ATS was a crime

Auditors from the Government Accountability Office who reviewed the “Automated Targeting System” (who’s a target? anyone who travels) concluded that the DHS Customs and Burder Protection division “has not fully disclosed or assessed the privacy impacts of its use of personal information during international passenger prescreening as required by law.”

CBP has published public notices and reports that describe certain elements of its international prescreening process, but these documents do not fully or accurately describe CBP’s use of personal data throughout the passenger prescreening process. It is important for CBP’s documentation to describe all of the steps of the prescreening process because the interrelationship of various steps of the process allows data to be transferred and used in ways that have not been fully disclosed.

CBP’s international prescreening process involves a wide range of procedures and data sources that CBP utilizes to determine passenger risk levels. According to a CBP official, to help make these prescreening decisions, CBP collects personal data from multiple sources (including passengers and government databases), and uses the data for several purposes, including identity matching against the government watch list, risk targeting, and passenger document validation. According to CBP, its officers also use commercial data, to a limited degree, to assist them in confirming a passenger’s identity when needed. CBP’s public disclosures about APIS and ATS do not describe all of the data inputs or the extent to which the data are combined and used in making prescreening decisions.

That’s one of the specific complaint the Identity Project made in our original and supplementary comments to the DHS in response to its (late and legally inadequate) notices about the targeting system. The GAO report on airline passenger “screening” was submitted to Congress, and to the DHS, in November 2006, but a censored (“redacted”) version wasn’t made public until this week.

As we pointed out in our comments, it’s a crime under the Privacy Act for a Federal official to operate a system of records — to keep dossiers on U.S. citizens or residents — without legal authority and proper notice. Now the government’s own auditors have confirmed that those running this system to target travelers are, indeed, criminals.

Are the DHS’s “Privacy Officers” capable of policing their own colleagues’ criminal violations of the Privacy Act? If not, will anyone else step in to hold them accountable? Or will the public have to take matters into our own hands, by refusing to comply with unlawful, unconstitutional demands to surrender our human rights and freedom of movement?

May 17 2007

Alaska REAL ID Enabling Legislation Left to Rot on the Vine

Good news from the Last Frontier: The REAL ID Enabling Act of 2007 (HB3) failed to even get a floor vote in in the House before the Alaska state legislature adjourned for the year. There’s a chance the bill will be taken-up again next year, but Alaskans are an independent lot who don’t like being told they have to carry ‘papers’.

The Identity Project is proud to have testified at every hearing held on HB3; and was instrumental in drawing attention to the real problems with REAL ID.

State Rep Bob Lynn (R), a nice guy who should know better than to push totalitarian nonsense down the throats of his constituents, has been pimping REAL ID snake oil for several years. Fortunately, he hasn’t been terribly successful.

Alaskans need to remain vigilant. They’ll have their chance over the next couple of months as an IDP assisted lawsuit against the Alaska DMV for changing their drivers license rules goes forward in state court.

May 17 2007

The Identity Project’s Comments Against Real ID

Real ID requires states to act as Federal agents in the unwise policy of turning our transportation systems into a dragnet for law enforcement. Americans must increasingly prove they are not on secret government lists in order to travel or generally function in their own country. This is wrong. Contrary to DHS’ mantra that “we must do everything to prevent terrorism,” we must not surrender our hard won liberty and then falsely believe ourselves safer or patriotic in doing so.

Other have addressed the financial cost and inconvenience this program imposes upon the states and their citizens, the violation of state sovereignty and the commandeering of their resources by the federal government, and the privacy and security concerns surrounding the gathering, maintaining, and sharing this huge amount of data. Briefly addressed here is whether the intended use of Real ID achieves its goals, and a warning that the path we are on is a dangerous one.

Click here to read our comments in full.