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Identity Card Paranoia

By Don Tennant
August 6, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - If theres one thing that really gives me the willies, its a book-burning. The idea of a bunch of fanatics deciding on their own accord that certain books not only shouldnt be read but should never have been written is about as chilling as it gets for anyone who makes his living off the written word.

Even if you dont make your living this way, youre likely to agree. But if we think about it, most of us could probably come up with at least one book that we wish had never been written. We may not be prone to throwing copies of it onto some creepy bonfire, but we still might be convinced that wed all be better off if the particular book had never seen the light of ISBN day. For me, one such book is ISBN No. 9780451524935. Youre no doubt more familiar with the four-digit title George Orwell gave it: 1984.

Its difficult to think of a single published work that has caused more senseless hand-wringing or outright paranoia in the span of 58 years (1984 was written in 1948 and published in 1949). It seems all you have to do is whisper 1984 or Big Brother, and youre able to whip people into a privacy-rights frenzy that sends them over the common-sense edge. Im convinced that without those whispers, we would have a national ID card by now, and wed all be a lot better off.

Now, before Im thrown onto the pyre for spewing such socialist heresy, bear with me long enough to at least get a sense of where Im coming from. For starters, I have an abiding appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and I have no qualms about expressing that appreciation.

My daughter, Shelly, and I were among the hundreds of thousands of people crowded onto the Charles River Esplanade in Boston for the huge Fourth of July celebration last month. One of the real highlights for me was a ceremony that was held to confer U.S. citizenship upon 26 people who had come from 23 countries as diverse as Ireland, Latvia, Sierra Leone and China. One minute, those 26 people had almost nothing in common. The next, they shared an invincible bond as Americans.

When that electrifying moment arrived, the cheers were deafening. Those 26 people looked out onto the Esplanade, some smiling, others crying, but all proudly waving small American flags. And those of us in the crowd welcomed them with applause and more waving flags. Yes, there I was in my signature stars-and-stripes Joe Boxers (no, Im not kidding; yes, I apologize for the visual), waving not one, but two flags high above my head.

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