Making the case for a national ID card

The following is an open letter to President George W. Bush penned by Stephen Hunt, CEO of Exton, Pa.-based Datastrip Inc., a maker of ID cards that use a 2-D bar-code technology.

Dear Mr. President:

The White House has made it clear that it will not pursue a national identification card system, despite terrorists using fraudulent IDs to gain unlawful entry into our country. We understand the fear of Big Brother looking down upon us from a single database; however, there is a way to provide citizens with increased protection without compromising our privacy.

Through effective background checking and the combined use of biometrics and two-dimensional (2-D) bar-code technology, we can ensure positive identification of individuals without online access to a national ID database.

2-D high-capacity bar codes were developed specifically to store considerable amounts of machine-readable information in a relatively small printed space. Information stored in a 2-D bar code creates a portable database. When an individual presents an ID card to a security officer or similar individual, the cardholder's biometric (fingerprint, facial geometry, etc.) is captured and compared to the encoded information stored within the 2-D code printed on the ID card.

Use of this technology ensures that the individual carrying the ID card is in fact the same person the ID card was issued to. Criminals or terrorists would be hard pressed to replace the victim's encoded information with their own because this type of system can utilize multiple encryption methods to further protect biometric and other identity information.

Mr. President, the advantages of an integrated, biometric/2-D bar-code ID system are as follows:

  • It does not require online access to a national database every time a U.S. citizen's ID is checked;
  • It protects the citizen's privacy and;
  • It can be implemented now.

Deployment of biometric and 2-D bar-code systems will significantly reduce the use of fraudulent IDs by criminals and terrorists. The system will ensure that ID checks performed during a border crossing or at an airline check-in counter are reliable. It will improve security and can be used in conjunction with existing ID documents, including voter registration, passports, visas, green cards and driver's licenses.

Traditional ID Systems

Today, three different techniques are used to secure an ID:

  • What you know, such as a PIN number, mother's maiden name or pet's name;
  • What you have, such as your credit card or driver's license, and;
  • Who you are, such as your fingerprint, facial characteristic or iris.

The first two methods are no longer obstacles to hackers, criminals, or terrorists. Insidious individuals have now figured out ways to compromise what you have and what you know. The only thing they have great difficulty in stealing is who you are, or at least how you are defined biometrically.

The driver's license has become our most widely accepted form of identification, but it was never designed to be a secure document. It was designed as a document that identified the holder as someone capable of operating a motor vehicle. Despite continued efforts to secure the driver's licenses, it is still fairly easy to create a false one, thanks to today's computers and easy access to ID card production software and hardware.

Privacy and Security

Long before September 11th, ID fraud was recognized as one of the fastest growing white-collar crimes in the United States. In 1992, the Federal Trade Commission received nearly 35,000 calls reporting ID theft. By June of this year, the FTC was receiving 1,800 per week, or 93,600 annually.

The U.S. Secret Service believes ID theft cost consumers and financial institutions $745 million in 2000. The Seattle Times said the FBI reported that ID fraud was the banking industry's number one problem, costing between $1 billion to $6 billion a year. Our primary interest rates have decreased to less than 4%, but credit card interest rates are still double digit.

Mr. President, we don't have to give up privacy to protect ourselves against terrorists killing innocent people to utilize their identities for heinous crimes against humanity. We don't have to make a choice between privacy and security to protect ourselves from identity theft and Big Brother.

However, Mr. President, what we do need is a practical and executable national system that ensures both our citizen's security and privacy.

Through advancements in integrated biometric and 2-D bar-code technology, that system can be implemented today.


Stephen Hunt, CEO

Datastrip Inc.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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