Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Bracing for the next boondoggle: the national ID card

First it was the gun registry. Next, it's going to be the Kyoto carbon-trading and daycare. After that, it's going to be a National ID card. Ah, the Canadian governmental boondoggle - it's a pattern that just doesn't seem to want to go away.

Right now in the US, the Senate is attempting to bring in a form of National Identification under the pretext of anti-terrorism. It's called the REAL ID Act, and quite a few people are wondering if it will lead to similar initiatives here in Canada.

The main movers behind the bill are from the Coalition for a Secure Driver's License, and they hope to make the USA a safer place to live and work. They seem to have forgotten Benjamin Franklin's dictum that "those who would trade liberty for a little economic security deserve neither".

Here's one guy's summary:


"Ostensibly, the law would create a national driver’s license (NDL) by imposing federal "standards" on the states, which traditionally have set and enforced their own criteria for licensing motorists as part of their "police powers." The "Real ID" bill would change all that by giving the Department of Homeland Security power to mandate a nationally computer-linkable federal license. The measure provides for minimal "consultation" with the states on regulations and no real privacy protections. Under the Real ID, state driver’s licenses and ID cards would become federal documents. By converting state licenses and ID cards, which just about everyone has, the government could make the change to national IDs seem less obtrusive and objectionable than making everyone apply for a new document."

Implementation of the REAL ID Act implies implementation of the proposed Driver's License Agreement. Check out what its jurisdiction is:

"Jurisdiction definition--The DLA defines "jurisdiction" to allow participation by a territory or province of Canada and by any state of the Republic of Mexico or the Federal District of Mexico. Under the current DLC, no foreign jurisdictions can participate. The NRVC defines jurisdiction to include provinces of Canada and other countries."

Canada too, eh? Back in 2003, we had a Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that asked the question of: A National ID Card for Canada?, and the committee's results were inconclusive - the jury is still out. If REAL ID passes, you can expect to see more of it here in Canada. But because the political climate is shifty right now, don't expect it too soon.

However, it might be good to examine who might want to have an ID Card for Canadians. CIPPIC states:

Another proponent of national ID card systems is the biometrics, document security and data management industry. A nationwide ID card, possibly mandatory for every citizen above a certain age, is a project worth billions of dollars to this industry. It would require manufacturing the cards, setting up and maintaining registry databases, as well as a secure network infrastructure and the distribution of thousands of card readers and possibly biometric scanners. Clearly, many industry players have a vested interest in the development and implementation of a national ID card in Canada.

Here's what the Task Force for the Future of North America had to say:

"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. Over the longer term, it should be possible to rethink fundamentally the systems for national control of intracontinental travel and trade. This will be particularly true if the three countries make genuine progress toward establishing a common security perimeter.

North America is different from Europe, of course, but it is instructive that the members of the European Union have managed largely to eliminate physical border controls. The governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States should commit themselves to the long-term goal of dramatically diminishing the need for the current intensity of the governments’ physical control of traffic, travel, and trade within North America."

That last line is pure Orwellian Newspeak.

For an excellent overview of the Canadian Biometrics industry, see the Strategis website, especially the summary:

"Increased activity in residential, commercial, industrial and institutional construction, and renovation projects coupled with events following the September 11, 2001 attacks continue to fuel the demand for commercial security equipment in Canada. Currently, the total market in Canada is valued at approximately USD$1.5 billion, with a growth potential of 22-25 percent predicted through 2005. U.S. firms already control almost 30 percent of the market. The commercial and government sectors are expected to remain the most important end users in the commercial security industry in Canada."

Back in 2003, the interim Privacy Commisioner stated that "[t]he costs associated with such a system would be enormous. Just creating it could cost between $3 billion and $5 billion, with substantial additional costs to actually operate it." The biometrics industry in Canada could double in size with one big federal contract, hence the impending boondoggle.

Over the next few years, look for the biometrics industry to lobby hard to get this contract. The debate is still open; it's just sitting there, waiting for someone to take it up.