Although Larry Ellison's post-Sept. 11 push for a national ID card system may have left some IT vendors hoping to derive some new business from the mammoth endeavor, experts at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP) conference in San Francisco Wednesday threw some cold water on their burning hopes.
"There has not been much real discussion on how ID cards would work, or if they would work," said Andrew Schulman, chief researcher at the Privacy Foundation.
Following last year's terrorist attacks in the U.S., industry leaders including Oracle Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ellison spoke out in favor of national ID cards that include some type of biometric information about the carrier, with the goal of helping to relieve security concerns.
Enthusiasm waned as the sheer magnitude of the project came to be realized, however.
"What kind of biometric information should be included? Where should the data be held? How do we manage the back end? There's all these questions and no answers," said Deirdre Mulligan, director of the public policy clinic at University of California, Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law.
"The technology might be the easiest piece, and it's not easy," added Mulligan, who is also a member of an advisory committee for the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board that has studied the idea of national ID cards.
Experts speaking at the conference agreed that designing, deploying and managing a national ID card system to serve 250 million U.S. citizens would be an onerous task on a scale never before attempted.
Schulman, who has been studying a much smaller ID system used to document people regularly crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, said that even the practicality of using biometric information had not yet been properly analyzed.
"Privacy advocates have ceded the practicality (discussion) to the biometrics vendors," said Schulman. "That's not a good idea, because homeland security is pork for the IT industry," he added.
Jay Maxwell, president and CEO of AAMVA Net Inc., the IT division of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), is also wary of implementing various biometrics systems without first analyzing the viability of a national ID card system.
Maxwell, whose division is charged with operating the nationwide information system used by state departments of motor vehicles, among other tasks, said that some states have already jumped the gun in adding biometric information to their state driver licenses.
"Twelve million people already have these cards, and there's no interoperability. They aren't going to solve any problems, they're just going to spend a lot of money," Maxwell said.
Speaking of money, Maxwell also warned against the expense involved in implementing a national ID card system, noting that every dollar spent to produce each new card would add US$250 million to the project.
Although the thought of having to produce so many new cards -- with the technologies to implement them and the databases to back them up -- may make IT vendors' eyes light up, these are just the kinds of concerns that are making the government shy away from the idea. On top of the money issue, privacy and security concerns that accompany managing a system full of sensitive biometric information also put a damper on the rally for a national ID card.
"Before we have this discussion, we have to know what we're really talking about," Mulligan said.
CFP runs through Friday.