Page 6

tem would not lead to their apprehension. Another suggestion is that the data collected from the widespread use of nationwide IDs could help prevent terrorists from achieving their objectives. This might involve the detection of abnormal or suspicious patterns of behavior that accompany the planning and/or execution of a terrorist act.

Another potential role of a nationwide identity system is as an investigative tool in the aftermath of a crime or terrorist attack. Here, the data collected could help retrospectively in the identification, arrest, and prosecution of the perpetrators. Some argue that this is primarily (though not exclusively) a post facto activity, more useful for law enforcement than for counterterrorism, which is, in part, an a priori intelligence function.

Terrorism issues per se are beyond the scope of this report, which examines the concept of a nationwide identity system in the large, not solely with respect to counterterrorism. The committee believes that the concept of a nationwide identity system—including whether such a system is a good idea—must be examined on its own merits.

Indeed, nationwide identity systems have been sought for many purposes in addition to countering terrorism. They have been proposed to aid in fraud prevention (for example, in the administration of public benefits), catch “deadbeat dads,” enable electoral reforms, allow quick background checks for those buying guns or other monitored items, and prevent illegal aliens from working in the United States.

Depending on the nature of the population, the data collected, and the scope of use, a nationwide identity system might be able to help with other tasks as well. For example, a robust, accurate and comprehensive system might aid law-enforcement officials in tracking or finding people. 2 It is possible that the correlation of social (for example, health, economic, demographic) information could be more easily accomplished with the use of a national identity system; statisticians, for example, note how a single identifier would facilitate some of their analyses. In addition, depending on implementation choices, e-commerce and e-government transactions might be simplified. However, there could also be negative consequences, ranging from infringement on rights and liberties (including loss of or invasion of personal privacy) to harm resulting from misidentification or misuse of the system, plus significant implementation and deployment costs. The trade-offs (enhanced security versus risks to pri-

2Examples include tracking fugitives, executing warrants, tracking noncitizens with expired visas, tracking illegal aliens, and confirming alibis for those innocent of criminal charges. A nationwide identity system could facilitate the work done by the National Crime Information Center, a computerized database at the Federal Bureau of Investigation that permits access by authorized users to documented criminal justice information.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement