February 14, 2005 4:00 AM PST

National ID cards on the way?

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way toward helping us prevent another tragedy like 9/11," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

Now the Real ID Act heads to the Senate, where its future is less certain. Senate rules make it easier for politicians to derail legislation, and an aide said Friday that Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, was concerned about portions of the bill.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on a terrorism subcommittee, said "I basically support the thrust of the bill" in an e-mail to CNET News.com on Friday. "The federal government should have the ability to issue standards that all driver's licenses and identification documents should meet."

"Spy-D" cards?
National ID cards are nothing new, of course. Many European, Asian and South American countries require their citizens to carry such documents at all times, with legal punishments in place for people caught without them. Other nations that share the English common law tradition, including Australia and New Zealand, have rejected such schemes.

A host of political, cultural and even religious concerns has prevented a national ID from being adopted in the United States, even during the tumultuous days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that ushered in the Patriot Act.

Conservatives and libertarians typically argue that a national ID card will increase the power of the government, and they fear the dehumanizing effects of laws enacted as a result. Civil liberties groups tend to worry about the administrative problems, the opportunities for criminal mischief, and the potential irreversibility of such a system.

Some evangelical Christians have likened such a proposal to language in the Bible warning "that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." That mark is the sign of the "end times," according to evangelical thinking, which predicts that anyone who accepts the mark will be doomed to eternal torment.

Those long-standing concerns have become more pointed recently, thanks to the opportunity for greater tracking--as well as potentially greater security for ID documents--that technologies such as RFID provide. Though the Real ID act does not specify RFID or biometric technology, it requires that the Department of Homeland Security adopt "machine-readable technology" standards and provides broad discretion in how to do it.

An ad hoc alliance of privacy groups and technologists recently has been fighting proposals from the International Civil Aviation Organization

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