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.