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Americans mull national ID cards

From Steve Young

NEW YORK (CNN) -- National identification cards have long been considered an abridgment of freedom in the United States. But public support may be building for them since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Some 70 percent of the U.S. public supported a system of national ID cards, saying they might help prevent terrorist acts, in a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey of 1,200 adults in late September soon after the attacks.

The issue has convinced some liberals to support the idea, including famous lawyer and author Alan Dershowitz.

"A limited national ID card, which would have the name, the address, the Social Security number, the photograph and a print fingerprint or retinal print, matchable to a computer chip, would simply make identity theft impossible. It would eliminate the need for any kind of racial or ethnic profiling," said Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor.

But one well-known libertarian think tank, Washington's Cato Institute, does not support the concept.

"The national ID card system is really sort of the ultimate dragnet device," said Tim Lynch, the institute's director of criminal justice studies. "It would require over 250 million Americans to surrender some of their privacy, some of their freedom for a system that I do not think will stop the terrorists from committing acts of violence here against the United States."

The program would not work, Lynch said, because terrorists could bribe card issuers and card inspectors, or they could recruit young people with spotless records.

Such drawbacks have not stopped a host of European countries, including Germany, France and Spain, from adopting ID systems.

In the United States, a massive database would be required for such a system. One computer program company said it would give the software to the government for free.

"We have to give them the tools, databases, cards and the latitude to protect us, and if we do, our liberties and our lives will be saved together," said Larry Ellison, chief executive officer of the California-based Oracle Corp.

Advocates said it would be important to guard against too much information being required or shared. Critics said they predict ID cards would be required at airports first and then additional places in what they call "function creep."


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