March 19, 2011 DATA SECURITY

National ID Card: Not Coming to Your Neighborhood Soon

You may have recently spotted various stories indicating that President Obama is planning to give the U.S. Commerce Department authority for a forthcoming cybersecurity effort to create an Internet ID card for Americans. The move is also likely to please privacy and civil liberties groups that have raised concerns in the past over the dual roles of police and intelligence agencies.

The concept is nothing new. A national ID card which could be used as a replacement for credit cards, drivers license, and any other personal card, has been toyed with for a long time.

The credit card industry for example, has been playing with this idea for years to reduce costs (every year about 20 million cards are discarded and replaced). If we could carry something that would identify us, the credit card company could simply retain that information and associate it with our credit card number without sending us a card.

The problem with this is that no one has been able to come up with something that is truly secure. The approach of the White House is laudable because by giving the responsibility to the Commerce Department they are effectively saying it’s not a national security issue, but simply a matter of securing commerce and ensuring that when I use my credit, it is truly me doing so and not someone else.

Let’s not get too excited, however. The world has been trying to invent doors with unbeatable locks since the day we invented locks; and we are still fighting that battle. Issuing a national ID card will face numerous legal, regulatory and security hurdles.

But other countries have managed to overcome these challenges – Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany are just a few. Flip side is a number of industrialized nations – among these the U.S. – don’t have national ID cards. Some examples include Australia, Denmark, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Stay tuned!