Big Brother, Meet Big Sister : Immigration: Sen. Feinstein wants everyone to carry an encrypted, database linked national identity card.

Ron K. Unz is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and an adjunct scholar at the Center for Equal Opportunity, a new policy organization based in Washington

Timothy McVeigh, alleged perpetrator of the Oklahoma City bombing, is said to have believed that, while he was in the Army, the government implanted a microchip tracking device in his buttocks. Most of us would dismiss this as the ravings of an obvious madman. But to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, McVeigh is just a bit ahead of his time; she is a believer in "biometric" tracking of all of us. She proposes, as part of legislation for tougher control of illegal immigration, a national identity card for every man, woman, and child in America.

Captivated by advanced technology, Feinstein says that such a card could include a magnetic strip or microchip containing a digitized form of each citizen's vital statistics, photograph, fingerprint, voiceprint and retina scan. The card would be linked to massive new federal computer databases, and would be presented whenever an American applied for employment or government benefits. The card would have to be renewed annually, presumably requiring refingerprinting to verify identity.

Now, subjecting every American to the humiliation of annual citizenship checks could hardly win popular support if presented purely as an employment program for tens of thousands of new federal document inspectors and file managers; an overriding justification must be found. In past decades, the magic words national security might have persuaded Americans to meekly sacrifice their traditional liberties. The Cold War is no more, but Feinstein has found an equivalent: the current "war" against illegal immigration. Once the 260 million legal inhabitants of America have been scanned, everyone caught with their fingerprints not on file might be presumed illegal and deported or imprisoned, solving the problem once and for all.

Whether Dianne Feinstein actually cares so deeply about the scourge of illegal immigration remains open to considerable doubt. Aside from happily placing her own home in the care of an illegal alien some years back, she strongly supported throughout the 1980s various San Francisco ordinances that declared the city a "safe haven" for all illegal immigrants and prohibited any local cooperation with immigration authorities. But politicians follow the polls, and if catching all those illegal nannies and gardeners now requires every American citizen to carry a microchip, so be it. Gov. Pete Wilson endorsed much the same approach just before the 1994 election when he said that actual Proposition 187 would probably require establishment of a national ID card.

Compared to Feinstein's proposal, Pat Buchanan's foolish idea of building a massive wall across the thousand miles of our southern border is far less harmful to American freedom.

A national ID database represents the slipperiest of all civil liberty slopes. A system employing tens of thousands of government clerks and administrators and costing tens of billions of dollars to build and operate would surely not remain limited to catching illegal nannies. Why not use it, at virtually no additional cost, to track convicted child molesters as well? Who would dare object? Why not then also track the movements of convicted murderers. And rapists. And drug dealers and felons in general. And fathers behind on their child support. And tax-evaders. And "political extremists." Members of "religious cults." Drug addicts. AIDS carriers. Gun owners. With each turn of the political cycle, left and right would add their favorite batch of social enemies to the surveillance list.

Or consider employment issues. Since every private employer would have to obtain federal authorization before offering any individual a job, a database record of race, ethnicity and gender could be used as an extraordinarily direct means of enforcing future affirmative action regulations. Imagine business owners receiving computerized responses such as "employment permission denied; you already employ too many white males."

Perhaps considerations such as these have persuaded the Clinton Administration, Sen. Ted Kennedy and other leading liberal members of Congress to put aside any civil liberty concerns they might have and fully endorse legislation along the lines of Feinstein's "Big Sister" proposal. Some moderate Republicans such as Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas are also on board. However, leading conservative Republicans and libertarians--House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, strategist Bill Kristol, the Cato Institute, the National Federation of Independent Business--are absolutely opposed, as are civil liberties groups such as the ACLU.

Requiring the law-abiding 98% of American's population to carry a national ID card or undergo retinal scanning is un-American in the strongest sense of the word, and the only long-term beneficiaries of such federal policies would be the recruiting sergeants of the Michigan Militia. Our fractured society already contains large numbers of violent and paranoid individuals terrified of imaginary government plots against their freedom. Politicians who would give true substance to such fears by affixing microchips to every American's identity must be held accountable for the likely consequences. One Oklahoma City bombing is enough.

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