White House nixes national ID notion

The White House will not pursue a national identification card system, despite renewed clamor from pockets of government and industry following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"We are not even considering the idea," said a Bush spokesman on Thursday.

The White House's chilly reception of the idea followed a recent surge of interest in the idea of national ID cards, including an offer from Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison to have his company bear software costs for such a system.

On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers had surmised that support for a national ID card system would now be strong among Americans.

Research by the Pew Research Center for the People backed up that notion, finding that most Americans now favor national ID card use.

Pew found that although Americans seemed willing to absorb any privacy losses associated with a national ID system, most balk at government surveillance of phone calls and e-mails.

Still, the idea of a national ID system with centralized repositories and tracking capabilities has long stirred controversy.

"We don't want to see Congress pass something in a rush because everyone is fearful to get on an airplane right now," said Lori Cole, executive director of the Eagle Forum, a Washington-based "pro-family grassroots organization" started by Phyllis Schlafly.

However, vendors, including ActivCard Inc. in Fremont, California, were poised for a government move toward national ID cards.

"What we are talking about here in terms of value to the user is confidence. Security is part of it, as is ease of use, convenience, and mobility," said Tom Arthur, executive vice president at ActivCard.

Eagle Forum's Cole offered reports of technology companies lately boasting "a tremendous number of calls" in favor of national ID cards.

Some vendors have even cited a spike in stock prices related to public support for such a system, she said.

ActivCard, along with a slew of other vendors, were signed on by the Defense Department to deliver an ID card for military use. Arthur said the Defense Department's system could possibly serve as a model for a national system.

The massive military smart card system makes use of PKI (public key infrastructure) technology and ties together human resources, payroll, and other Defense Department databases with basic identifying information such as "name, rank, and serial number," Arthur continued.

The Defense Department will spend about US$145 million on the program over five years. Each card cost the military about $6, according to information supplied by the Defense Department.

ActivCard's Arthur estimated that a national ID card would have similarly run between $5 to $6 per card but could hit $10 to $12 per person when related systems costs are factored in.

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