Americans have long rejected a national ID, but many U.S. state governments are quietly developing national ID systems in a variety of forms. One is the uniform identity card system envisioned by the REAL ID Act. That federal law, passed in 2005, seeks to subject state drivers’ licensing to federal data collection and information-sharing standards that will facilitate identification and tracking.
State promotion of the E-Verify background check system, which is intended to control the employment of illegal immigrants, is another path to a national ID. Successful implementation of E-Verify will require a national ID, and some states are already sharing driver data with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security so that it can be used in federally administered worker background checks.
Less well known are several other programs poised to produce the same results as a national ID without the requirement of an identity card or other formalities. These developments position states and the federal government to make once-ordinary behavior like driving on city streets and strolling the sidewalks of American towns into recordkeeping events for an overly attentive state. They compose what might be called the new national ID.
This paper summarizes the stances of each of the 50 states on various ID systems, including REAL ID, E-Verify, facial recognition, and license-plate scanning. Together, those technologies—along with other initiatives orchestrated at the federal level—are the leading edge of a national identification and tracking infrastructure.
Officials and citizens in every American state should review their states’ identification, data collection, and data retention policies. The privacy and liberty of all Americans are threatened by such increasingly widespread surveillance systems.