National ID Card Flaws
For years there has been talk of "improving" our drivers licenses and even
creating a national ID card using biometrics to improve the security. The
proponents of a nationally issued card call this a Universal Biometric
Identification (UBID) card. I opposed these plans after only a few seconds of thought
because they failed my Jews in the attic test.
No further effort was really needed to discern this was a really bad idea.
Unfortunately it wasn't nearly as simple as that to convince other people.
I debated this issue online on the
Biometric Consortium's electronic
discussion group. The history of my debate
can be viewed in all it's "glory" and errors. In my mind at least -- I won
the battle. The following is to express the flaws in a more concise and
As outlined by a participate on Biometrics
Consortium Email Discussion List
the UBID would required for such a great number of day-to-day activities
that would be virtually impossible to function in society without it.
Furthermore when it was used a remote central database would be contacted to
confirm the validity of the card. These two things are what give the card
it's supposed power and are it's fatal flaws:
- If the card and it's contact with the central database is required for
day-to-day activities then the creators of this system will have created a
single point failure system for the entire country. That database, it's
power supply, it's communication lines, it's software, everything about it
will be a means to bring this country to a halt. This database, by
necessity, must have hundreds of thousands of entry points accepting millions
of connections each day. The more access points the more vulnerable the
system is to attacks. Any building that requires the card for access,
any business that requires the card for transactions will be vulnerable to
having it's communication channel severed. A UBID as envisioned by it's
proponents will have created
a huge vulnerability to our society that cannot be allowed to exist.
- Any central database that has the ability to track every move, every
transaction of a person will be a tool of tremendous potential for abuse.
It will dramatically fail my Jews in the attic
test. No rules, regulations or laws can prevent abuse by those
people that enforce the laws. This has been repeatedly proven not only
in the classic cases of Nazi Germany and the USSR, but in our own country with
such examples as the illegal access of census records to find and detain
American citizens of Japanese descent during WWII.
If a system were devised such that it does not have a central database
that can track everyone and is not required for day-to-day operation then the
above fatal flaws might disappear and only minor flaws, such as those listed
below, would exist. I suggested such a system
and described how it might work but it was essentially ignored by the proponents
of a UBID.
There are several lesser flaws that will negate any advantages and may
actually result in a net negative "benefit" although certainly not as
catastrophically as the fatal flaws listed above.
- The more data and functionality associated with the card and the more
secure and trustworthy the card is perceived to be the greater value there
will be in forging it and/or bribing or otherwise corrupting the people that
are authorized to modify the data in the central database. There will
be, of necessity, thousands of people with such privileges.
- All biometrics fail with some individuals or people that take effort to
disguise their biometric identifiers. Iris scans don't work on people
without eyes, people with particular disorders of the eye, and designer
contact lenses. Fingerprint biometrics don't work on people without some
skin disorders or people that soaked their fingers in bleach the night before.
There must exist a backup mechanism. The backup mechanism must be as
strong as any other point in the system or it will be exploited to the
exclusion of attacking the more primary verification mechanisms.
- Nearly all the problems UBID advocates hope to solve result in the
equivalent of putting an iron door on a grass hut. The existing systems
may be represented as a wooden door on the same grass hut. The wooden
door may have failed sometimes but the grass walls of the hut are far weaker
points to attack and the iron door will not make the contents of the hut any
- People may refuse to participate. The firearms registry in Canada is
a failure for this very reason. It is so unpopular that most of the
provinces have refused to enforce it, an estimated 1 million firearms are not
registered and yet only person has been convicted of failing to register his
- A black market will spring up to supply the goods and services to those
willing to pay a premium for their privacy. Black markets result in
increases of other types of crime, frequently violent crime, as so
dramatically shown by this nations war on some recreational drugs.
Various organizations have attacked the National ID Card scheme as well.
Here are links to some of their web sites:
American Civil Liberties Union (Do a search
for "national id card" on their site)
Electronic Privacy Information Center
January 15, 2004
Email: Joe Huffman