Social Security cards and national ID: Still a bad idea

Social Security cards and national ID: Still a bad idea

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Image - Social Security Handbook
Image - Social Security Handbook

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2014 — When the Social Security Act was first passed in 1935, a major objection was that the Social Security card would become a national ID card. For decades, the Social Security card issued to every American had emblazoned on it the words, “not for identification purposes.” 

Now there is a new push for a national ID card. America has never had a national identification card, and it has been a source of pride that we do not have to produce our “papers” on demand.

This new ID card could change that.

One suggestion is to put photos on social security cards and use them for identification. Andrew Young, the U.N. Ambassador under President Jimmy Carter, thinks this is a good idea. So does former-President Bill Clinton.

Clinton and Young both discussed this topic at a Civil Rights Summit, held last week at the Lyndon Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin. Clinton discussed turning Social Security cards into national ID cards to combat voter suppression. Young said, “What we’re saying is, everybody’s got a Social Security card. But with all of this identity theft going on, it’s a good idea to have your picture on it.” Young recommended that President Obama sign an executive order to change Social Security cards; Clinton did not go that far.

Many people receive their first Social Security card as children, so if the point is to avoid identity theft, the photo Social Security card will have to be updated as we become adults. That would make it a de facto national photo ID card.

Andrew Young has been opposed to photo ID requirements to vote. There is a certain inconsistency between favoring national ID cards and opposing photo ID voting requirements, but never count on consistency from a liberal.

Republican Senator Rand Paul opposes the idea. In 2013, he introduced the Protect Our Privacy Act as an amendment to the Senate’s immigration reform bill. It would have forbidden the creation of a national ID card under the auspices of immigration reform, and it would have forbidden the government to require photographic or biometric identification without cause. It would have specifically forbidden a biometric or photographic Social Security card. 

Putting a photo on a Social Security card is not by itself frightening. The frightening part of this is the potential for mission creep. “Mission creep” is a military term that refers to the evolution of a mission as one simple task into a wide variety of goals and objectives, some of them often contradictory.

When the Social Security Act was passed, the Social Security number was simply to be an account number with the government, nothing more. Now the Social Security number is a commercial identification number. Your credit report and credit score are tied to your Social Security number.  No one can fill out an application for a mortgage, rent, credit or a job without providing a Social Security number.

The Social Security card as national ID could take on a huge amount of mission creep. Citizens might be required to carry that identification on them at all times. It might become impossible to travel by air or rail without that card, to obtain or use credit, to buy a gun — or to vote. The government might flag the card on a whim to restrict travel abilities of citizens, as the TSA now does with no-fly lists. 

This might seem far-fetched, but ten years ago, so were no-fly lists and the TSA’s power to force the sick and elderly to expose colostomy bags and adult diapers in public. Who would have believed back then that free men and women would meekly stand with their arms raised to be strip-searched by a machine? Five years ago, who would have believed an administration would use the Internal Revenue Service to persecute Americans just on the basis of their political affiliations?

Ronald Reagan once said that the closest thing to eternal life on this planet is a government program. But the real problem with government programs is not that they never go away. It is that they grow and grow until they “mission-creep” entirely out of control.

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Judson Phillips
Judson Phillips is the founder of Tea Party Nation, one of the largest Tea Party Groups in the country and the number one national tea party site on the Internet. A lawyer by profession, Judson has been involved in politics since his teens. “Ronald Reagan inspired me,” he says. Judson became involved in the Tea Party movement in February 2009 after hearing Rick Santelli’s rant on CNBC. “I heard there was going to be a Tea Party in Chicago inspired by Santelli, but didn’t know if anyone was doing a rally in Nashville where I was based. Finally I emailed Michelle Malkin and asked her if there was a Tea Party in Nashville. Malkin sent an email back saying, ‘No, why don’t you organize one?’ I did.” The first Tea Party in Nashville was held late February 2009 which drew a crowd of about 600. Judson then organized the Tax Day Tea Party in Nashville, which drew over 10,000 people into downtown. It was at this time that Tea Party Nation was formed. Later that year, Judson decided to bring activists from across the country together, so he organized the first National Tea Party Convention in February 2010, which featured Alaska’s former Governor and Republican Vice Presidential Nominee, Sarah Palin as it’s keynote speaker. He currently manages the Tea Party Nation website, writes several daily columns and is working on more projects than any one person should. He is a frequent guest on cable and broadcast news shows, including on Fox, MSNBC, CNN and others.