Tuesday, March 15, 2011


That phrase, show me your papers, has been immortalized by inclusion in any number of WWII movies over the years. You know the ones: our heroes are undercover in Nazi held territory, the come up to a checkpoint and the nasty Nazi in the gatehouse comes out and asks our heroes for their papers, ie, their proof that they are, in fact, loyal followers of the Third Reich.

It's that connection to one of the worst regimes in modern history which is why, I think, many people were not happy with the Arizona immigration law that raised such a stink last year. The image of a native born citizen of this great country, be he or she Hispanic or not, being asked to prove his or her citizenship when asked by a cop during a traffic stop or on a street corner waiting for a ride, smacked a little too much of Show Me Your Papers.

But that, and the entire illegal immigrant problem got me to thinking. Now, before my more conservative readers blow a gasket and stop reading, let me state that I am in full support of the much used phrase, "What part of illegal don't they get?" Where I differ with my friends on the Right is that I'm enough of a pragmatic realist to know that 12 million status law breakers are pretty hard to find, let alone deport. Clearly, it just can't be done without doing great harm to our rule of law... Show me your papers!

Why, just in the last couple of weeks a rather large ring of document forgers was caught and implicated in what could be the sale of thousands of phony documents. And, as a former employer of hundreds of employees I can tell you that knowing whether the ID that new hire showed me was legit or not fell well outside my abilities. Particularly when the drivers license, for example, was from a different state.

In 2005 congress passed the Real Id Act which requires the states to standardize the design and safety features of drivers licenses. The deadline for this has been extended from May of this year to January 15, 2013. There is still much controversy concerning the Act since it sorta/kinda creates that much dreaded National Id Card. Show me your papers!

But hold on a minute. Considering ID theft, the illegal immigrant problem, the thought of terrorists entering the country on forged documents (see 9/11) and the need for each of us to prove who we are, both in person and online, is a national ID card really that bad? It would, of course, have to be very hard to forge. It probably would need a biometric identity component. And it would have to be universally accepted within the U.S.A.

Don't get me wrong. The idea of having any of my personal data socked away in a government computer system scares the heck out of me. And it doesn't matter which team is in charge, since I don't trust any of them as far as I could toss Air Force One. But the need is still there and growing. Wouldn't you like to just swipe your card in a card reader attached to your smart phone or iPad and be certified by a web site on the other end as, well, you. No more passwords with "letters and numbers and at least one capital letter" BS when trying to use your online banking account. For every potential horror there is a compelling benefit from such a national identity document. If technology can just come up with a truly impossible to forge card, that is.

So, each time my bank makes me come up with yet another password, which I have to write down in order to remember, which means it isn't really safe, I wonder if a national ID wouldn't be a better answer. Except, of course, for Show Me Your Papers!

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