White House nixes national ID notion

The White House won't pursue a national identification card system, despite renewed clamor for the idea from some people in government and industry after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. "We are not even considering the idea," said a Bush spokesman today.

The White House's chilly reception followed a recent surge of interest in national ID cards, including an offer this week from Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison to have his company bear software costs for such a system (see story).

On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers had surmised that support for a national ID card system would now be strong among Americans.

Research by the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press supported the idea, finding that most Americans favor national ID card use. Pew found that although Americans seemed willing to absorb any privacy losses associated with such a system, most balk at government surveillance of phone calls and e-mail.

Still, the idea of a national ID system with centralized repositories and tracking capabilities has long stirred controversy.

"We don't want to see Congress pass something in a rush because everyone is fearful to get on an airplane right now," said Lori Cole, executive director of the Eagle Forum, a Washington-based "pro-family, grass-roots" organization started by Phyllis Schlafly.

However, vendors, including ActivCard Inc., were poised for a government move toward national ID cards. "What we are talking about here in terms of value to the user is confidence. Security is part of it, as is ease of use, convenience and mobility," said Tom Arthur, executive vice president at the Fremont, Calif.-based company.

Cole offered recent reports of technology companies boasting "a tremendous number of calls" in favor of national ID cards. Some vendors have even cited a spike in stock prices related to public support for such a system, she said.

ActivCard and a slew of other vendors were signed on by the U.S. Department of Defense to deliver an ID card for military use. Arthur said the Defense Department's system could possibly serve as a model for a national system.

The massive military smart-card system makes use of public-key infrastructure technology and ties together human resources, payroll and other Defense Department databases with basic identifying information such as name, rank and serial number, Arthur said.

The Defense Department will spend about $145 million on the program over five years. Each card costs the military about $6, according to the Defense Department.

Arthur estimated that a national ID card would have similarly run between $5 and $6 per card, but could cost $10 to $12 per person when related systems costs are factored in.

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This story, "White House nixes national ID notion" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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