A Progressive Framework for Bridging the ID Divide


There are over 20 million voting age citizens without driver’s licenses. They, among other citizens, can and often do “suddenly find themselves lacking official identification, suffer from identity theft, are improperly placed on watch lists, or otherwise face burdens when asked for identification,” Peter Swire said at an event at the Center for American Progress on Monday. Swire, a Senior Fellow at CAP, participated in a panel discussion about addressing the challenges of identification and authentication in American society.

Cassandra Q. Butts, Center for American Progress Senior Vice President for Domestic Policy, moderated the panel, which included Swire; Cato Institute information policy studies director Jim Harper; BT Counterpane founder and chief technology officer Bruce Schneier; and Common Cause vice president for research Tova Wang.

Swire and Butts presented their new report, “The ID Divide: Addressing the Challenges of Identification and Authentication in American Society,” that proposes six new Progressive Principles for Identification Systems. It sets forth a comprehensive approach for how the next administration should deal with issues of identification and authentication.

Swire asserted that the “ID Divide leaves those without proper means of identification or with compromised ID unable to participate in the most basic functions of everyday life in our economy and democracy.” Last month, for example, 12 nuns were turned away from voting booths during the Indiana presidential primary because they lacked state identification.

Americans are split over what to do about these problems. “Some want stricter identification systems, while some see massive profits to be had if the U.S embraces ever more intrusive forms of ID…beyond fingerprints to iris scans, embedded ID chips, DNA profiles and other forms of ID,” he said.

Swire proposed that existing and upcoming systems be measured against the following six principles: achieving real security or other goals; accuracy; inclusion; fairness/equality; effective redress mechanisms; and equitable funding mechanisms.

Cato’s Harper explained that biometrics, identity cards, surveillance, databases, and dossiers all threaten privacy, civil liberties, and related human interests. “Everything is digitized…digital information is easy to copy, to store, to reuse, and to transfer.” Another issue, according to Harper, is that biometrics systems—which rely on physical traits such as fingerprints—in practice suffer from two related problems: they don’t work as well for some people and subpopulations, and they result in many false positives and negatives.

Wang explained that voter ID systems are also unreliable. “Using voter ID to prevent fraud at the polls fails miserably,” she said. In an ID system, there are often centralized databases and many new flows of personally identifiable information. A centralized system means that a single data breach can compromise all of that data.

There are 24 states that now require all voters to show ID, and a handful of those states require a photo ID. “There are 3 states that require a photo ID—Florida, Georgia, and Indiana,” Wang said Indiana is the worst of the three, because if a potential voter does not have a current government-issued ID—essentially a driver’s license that contains the individual’s exact name and photo—that person will not be able to vote. “And there is no back-up measure, where you can sign an affidavit like some other states,” she said.

Security of personal information is also a concern of identification and authentication systems. “No ID system can be more secure than the breeder documents used to get that ID,” added Schneier. He referenced that if a birth certificate is used to obtain an ID card, the ID itself cannot be more reliable than the birth certificate, because that is “the breeder document.” Schneier said it was easy for the September 11 terrorists to obtain authentic IDs from the DMV by bribing a DMV clerk. He stated, “if the issuance procedures have flaws—and they all will—that will hurt security.”

The principles outlined by Butts and Swire’s report can help to address all of these concerns. Important to coping with the ID Divide will be a “due diligence” process when considering and implementing identification systems. Due diligence is used in “mergers and acquisitions and other corporate transactions to describe the careful vetting before a company makes a major investment,” and the vetting process could prevent a flawed system from taking effect. “Performing due diligence on new identification programs before implementing them, based on our six progressive ID principles, will be critical to any effort to deal with problems and identification and authentication going forward,” Swire said.

Featured Panelists:
Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies, Cato Institute
Bruce Schneier, Founder and Chief Technology Officer, BT Counterpane
Peter P. Swire, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress; C. William O’Neill Professor at the Moritz College of Law of the Ohio State University
Tova A. Wang, Vice President for Research, Common Cause

Moderated by:
Cassandra Q. Butts, Senior Vice President for Domestic Policy, Center for American Progress


Center for American Progress, 1333 H St. NW, 10th Floor, Washington, DC , 20005

Additional information

A light lunch will be served at 12:30 pm