Adam Fields (weblog)

This blog is largely deprecated, but is being preserved here for historical interest. Check out my index page at for more up to date info. My main trade is technology strategy, process/project management, and performance optimization consulting, with a focus on enterprise and open source CMS and related technologies. More information. I write periodic long pieces here, shorter stuff goes on twitter or


Compelling argument against strong ID

Filed under: — adam @ 3:40 pm

Perry Metzger (on hiatus from blogging), moderator of the cryptography list, wrote the following in response to the question of why Americans are so afraid of ID cards. I reproduce it here verbatim with permission:

Perhaps I can explain why I am.

I do not trust governments. I’ve inherited this perspective. My grandfather sent his children abroad from Speyer in Germany just after the ascension of Adolf Hitler in the early 1930s — his neighbors thought he was crazy, but few of them survived the coming events. My father was sent to Alsace, but he stayed too long in France and ended up being stuck there after the occupation. If it were not for forged papers, he would have died. (He had a most amusing story of working as an electrician rewiring a hotel used as office space by the Gestapo in Strasbourg — his forged papers were apparently good enough that no one noticed.) Ultimately, he and other members of the family escaped France by “illegally” crossing the border into Switzerland. (I put “illegally” in quotes because I don’t believe one has any moral obligation to obey a “law” like that, especially since it would leave you dead if you obeyed.)

Anyway, if the governments of the time had actually had access to modern anti-forgery techniques, I might never have been born.

To you, ID cards are a nice way to keep things orderly. To me, they are a potential death sentence.

Most Europeans seem to see government as the friendly, nice set of people who keep the trains running on time and who watch out for your interests. A surprisingly large fraction of Americans are people or the descendants of people who experienced the institution of government as the thing that tortured their friends to death, or gassed them, or stole all their money and nearly starved them to death, etc. Hundreds of millions of people died at the hands of their own governments in the 20th century, and many of the people that escaped from such horrors moved here. They view things like ID cards and mandatory registry of residence with the local police as the way that the government rounded up their friends and relatives so they could be killed.

I do not wish to argue about which view is correct. Perhaps I am wrong and Government really is the large friendly group of people that are there to help you. Perhaps the cost/benefit analysis of ID cards and such makes us look silly. I’m not addressing the question of whether my view is right here — I’m just trying to explain the psychological mindset that would make someone think ID cards are a very bad idea.

So, the next time one of your friends in Germany asks why the crazy Americans think ID cards and such are a bad thing, remember my father, and remember all the people like him who fled to the US over the last couple hundred years and who left children that still remember such things, whether from China or North Korea or Germany or Spain or Russia or Yugoslavia or Chile or lots of other places.

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