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Security Implications of Economics of ID Cards

Some of the precepts that proponents of national ID often put forth is that it can make “illegal immigration more unpleasant for immigrants,” or “a national ID system has some substantial potential to be the cornerstone of a national fraud-prevention system.”

These are attractive notions, but will not be borne out in reality. Actually, the first will, but only because a national ID will make life more unpleasant for us all, illegal immigrants included.

Let’s presume that national ID cards would be deployed for these purposes. Will the illegal immigrants and identity thieves just give up? No. They’ll find cracks in the system. Those might involve people in the various issuing offices who can be corrupted. They might involve people breaking into computers and causing cards to be issued through the mail. (Expect that all cards will be mailed, to ensure that the address you give is somewhat reliable.) They might involve someone stealing important cryptographic keys and issuing their own cards. They might simply involve college students printing them up in dorm rooms.

What will happen is that the value of these cards will increase until the market finds a solution. And when it does, that solution will be valuable indeed.

So we won’t have secure issuance. But the issuance system will be deemed secure. It will be referred to as a secure system. And as such, when Alice is using your identity for her job picking grapes, or Bob shows an ID card with your name and SSN on it to get a bank account, there will be a presumption that it was you.

You thought it was hard to recover from ID theft today? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

This post is motivated because, as Michael Froomkin is blogging, there’s a “National ID Forum Underway.”

So, some specific responses to his points. He mentions (point 8) that the ID theft problem is made worse, but not that it is made inevitable and required by 15 million illegal immigrants. Whatever you think of illegal immigration, the economic impact of rounding up and kicking those people out would be devastating in (at least) the construction and agricultural sectors. It would also remove a huge source of free money being paid into the social security system. So, some valve will be opened, and the most likely one is 15 million new victims of identity theft. Other identity thieves will ride the coat-tails of that wave of criminality.

Froomkin does say “IV. The ID must be transparent — end users must be able to read everything coded on the ID itself.” But this is not possible. With cryptographic subliminal channels, the issuers will be able to encode extra information into the cards, and it will be undetectable.

I’m not participating in the forum. At the end of all of this, national ID is un-American, and we all know it.

5 comments on "Security Implications of Economics of ID Cards"

  • Nick says:

    RealID doesn’t require a NationalID, it just requires each individual State to adhere to basic standards for things such as issuing ID’s and the physical features of the ID.
    There is no requirement to share data between states, there is no inter-operability standard. A NationalID would have to be more in the direction that Federal Identification is moving with Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12) and all of it’s supporting documentation. This directive requires every federal employee to have a standard badge that works in every federal building.
    RealID does not require a NationalID.

  • Adam says:

    You’re simply incorrect. Section 203 of HR 418 is entitled “LINKING OF DATABASES.”
    (If that link doesn’t work, try this one.. I checked the ‘referred to senate committee’ (3rd) version.

  • Adam says:

    And while we’re at it, section 202 requires a “common machine readable interface.” If that’s not a requirement for interoperability, I don’t know what is.
    It’s sad when supporters of a law are unaware of what it says.

  • You leave out the possibility of another immigration amnesty, which seems a more likely outcome to me.

  • Adam says:

    That’s an interesting thought, but doesn’t it split the natural supporters of this law, who certainly don’t want to reward illegal immigration?
    As I recall, last January, President Bush made some noise about an amnesty, and his coalition reacted quite negatively.

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