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Your new North American ID card: one element of the merger of the United States, Canada, and Mexico is an effort to create a common "North American" ID card.

Beef cattle come down a loading chute leading into a slaughterhouse, mooing as they walk. Each steer has a yellow ear tag containing a radio frequency identification (RFID) device, which is scanned by a tag reader to assure that the proper animals are in the proper place.

The RFID system was promoted as a means to prevent the spread of animal diseases into the food-supply chain and to prevent bio-terrorism. But there were already adequate measures in place to stop diseased cattle from getting into the food chain, and many ways that the deviously minded would be able to circumvent the RFID system. Critics of the system pointed out that there must be some ulterior motive to the government's insistence on requiring such a tagging system, such as increased profits for importers of non-tagged foreign beef.

Now, in the name of national security, it's our turn to be "tagged."

It is true, of course, that America faces a serious terrorist threat. But instead of instituting commonsense, non-intrusive security measures, such as securing our borders so that terrorists cannot come here undetected, we are openly inviting unscreened foreigners across our borders. Any terrorist able to get into Canada or Mexico could then easily come here. Terrorists among us then serve as the rationale for monitoring the American people themselves through the use of a RFID national ID card.

Although having citizens "tagged" by the government won't likely mean wearing yellow plastic-coated appliances attached to our ears like for cattle, the similarity to the animal RFID ID system is striking. To begin with, just like the cattle tracking program, the national ID program is an ineffective "solution" to a problem that can be addressed in less intrusive ways.

"Your Papers, Please"

In May 2005, the federal government gave U.S. citizens de facto national ID cards. Title II of the Real ID Act calls for new federal standards in drivers' licenses. Unless states comply by May 2008, their citizens will not be able to enter federal buildings, board planes, collect Social Security payments, or establish accounts with national banks.

Just as the animal RFID program can easily be circumvented, the national ID system can be easily bypassed by criminals. Hackers have already demonstrated that they can strip information from RFID cards up to 160 feet away from the victims and that encrypted codes on the cards can be broken.

And because information on biometric chips could be stolen and changed, the |D system will, in essence, be tracking the ID cards themselves, not the people. Criminals will be able to move about at will on fraudulent cards. For honest people, the cards will likely be used to track them throughout the day--when their card is scanned at supermarkets and gas stations to verify ID for credit card use, at banks when depositing and withdrawing money, and at airports, car rentals, and workplaces again to verify ID.

And as with the animal ID system, there seems to be an ulterior motive behind the national ID initiative--to enable the implementation of a merger between Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

A book-length document called Building a North American Community, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, explains how a unified ID would facilitate the combining of the three countries: "The three countries should develop a secure North American Border Pass with biometric identifiers. This document would allow its bearers expedited passage through customs, immigration, and airport security throughout the region."

A North American ID

The key question is: will adoption of Real ID be a precursor to an internationalized North American ID? There are good reasons for thinking so.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which grew out of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, is a cluster of programs that would require those entering the United States to present a passport, another verifiable and secure document, or some combination of documents to prove the bearer's identity and citizenship. Not a bad idea. And the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), overseeing the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, has suggested a driver's license-like document for international travel called the PASS Card, which would have to be used both for leaving and entering the United States.

But the PASS Card, if implemented, would likely be only an intermediate step before the implementation of a national ID card that is unified between Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

The reason given for unifying the ID amongst the three countries would likely be that a PASS Card-style ID, focusing exclusively on U.S. border security, could hamper border crossings and interfere with increased mobility of persons and "free trade" across borders--which is one of the oft-repeated objectives of the NAU/ SPP schemers. A coalition of U.S. and Canadian businesses, Business for Economic Security, Trade & Tourism (comprised of over 60 companies and associations), reviewed the PASS proposal associated with the WHTI and estimated that it would reduce commerce between the United States and Canada, costing the U.S. economy $785 million and the Canadian economy $1.7 billion in lost revenue per year due to the decline in tourism alone.

This will be used to create a constituency for internationalizing the REAL ID program, so as not to interfere with "free trade."

The Bush administration's proposed amnesty for illegal aliens creates another rationale for a North American ID. RFID-enhanced ID cards have been suggested as a means of tracking immigrants who are or will soon be working in the United States.

Finally, the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) that is being instituted by the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States aims to promote "the secure movement of low-risk traffic across our shared borders" through "identify[ing], develop[ing] and deploy[ing] new technologies to advance our shared security." Among its recommendations, the SPP calls for "a secure, North American Border Pass with biometric identifiers."

Very likely, many Americans will see nothing alarming in our government's turning WHTI "into a backdoor tri-national ID system" with "Americans [having] little choice but to be integrated into it," in the words of Liberty Coalition policy director James Plummer. They might even believe that RFID has advantages. For instance, detailed personal medical information stored on the card would help paramedics treat seriously injured or incapacitated patients.

Of course, there are lots of reasons to be wary--expense, for one. In July, the Associated Press reported the results of a study done by the Texas Department of Public Safety concluding that fees for Texans applying for or renewing drivers' licenses could jump from $24 to more than $100. This is before any actual decision to incorporate RFID technology into Real ID.

Much worse than mere expense, however, are the safety and privacy problems associated with the card. The information encoded into RFID cards could include citizens' entire lives--not just medical records, but education history and skills, work history, job evaluations, etc.--allowing potential access by foreign bureaucrats, hackers, and sundry criminals to one's most personal information. There is no such thing as a completely tamper-proof system, and if hacked, RFID chips could provoke a "boom" in identity theft.

Worst of all, though, is the development of a transnational bureaucracy with total surveillance capabilities. Our government, along with at least Canada and Mexico, would be able to track honest people all day, every day--just as slaughterhouse-bound RFID-tagged cattle are tracked today.

Steven Yates, Ph.D., teaches philosophy at the University of South Carolina Upstate and Greenville Technical College.
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Title Annotation:ID CARD
Author:Yates, Steven
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 2, 2006
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