Monday, December 28, 2009

Identification Cards

Between semesters and without a job in Western Mass, I have a lot of free time at home.  I thought I could use some of the down time to read some books that have been on my mind for a while.  So after looking up what was available, I made a list of what to borrow and searched through my wallet for my library card.  Not there.  I checked the stack of cards on my bureau.  Not there either.  Then I realized that because my card only works in Western and Central Mass, I took it out and left it in my desk drawer at Brandeis.  Great.  My Mom let me borrow her card and I thought everything was great.

I walked across town (Longmeadow is blessed with great sidewalks), arrived at the Storrs Memorial Library, found the books, and went down to the checkout desk.  Problem: Mom owes $12 from some videos that my 7-year-old sister brought back late, so I can't check anything out.  I ask the librarian if she can look up my account.  No can-do.  Apparently they've had issues (fraud?).  I need to plead my case with the reference desk.  I explained my situation and was very polite.  I presented my MA driver's license so they could confirm my identity.  They were kind and made an exception for me.  However, one of the librarians said "Your library card is the most important card to carry with you."  That sort of bothered me, but it also got me thinking.

Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to consolidate our forms of identification?  European countries do this.  When I went to Denmark, the government assigned me something called a CPR number, which entitled me to both universal healthcare services and access to the nation's library system.  These are just two examples of the government services received with the CPR number.

Many people in the USA have a fear of ID systems.  In many minds, it conjures up thoughts of checkpoints in military dictatorships and invasions of privacy by totalitarian states.  A few of years ago, Congress passed the controversial REAL ID Act in order to establish federal standards for identification, but half of the states have refused to participate in the program.

I opposed the REAL ID Act when it was in Congress, but I'm just not that afraid anymore.  Americans' distrust of government goes back hundreds of years, from the beginning of our invasion of the continent.  I'm not convinced that our culture will ever change to embrace a consolidated form of identification.

But gosh, it sure would make it easier to go to the library.

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