NEW YORK, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- The idea of a National Eye-Dee Card scares the bejabbers out of me.
For one thing, it's got a dang computer chip on it. New York City subway cards have computer chips on 'em, too. But here's what people don't know. If you really want to, you can send in a request to the New York City Transit Authority and get a computer printout of exactly where and when that thing was used.
I'm already imagining the implications. "Would you care to explain to the jury, Mr. Briggs, why your subway card was used at 2:57 a.m. on the morning of the 17th at turnstile No. 96, 96th Street station, in the general vicinity of Brother Jimmy's Bait Shack, where you have frequently imbibed oyster shooters with companions, when your statement of the 18th states that you were working on spread-sheets all night in the East Village Women's Shelter?"
I mean, it's just terrifying. The card they're talking about for national Eye-Dee is the kind of thing Communist Russia called the "domestic passport." Every time you went from one city to another, you had to register with the police or show your passport. (With ours you wouldn't need to register, because an electronic reader at the airport would automatically locate you.) But there was an even more frightening aspect to the Russian domestic passport. In singles bars Russian women would always ask to see it, because it recorded whether you were married or not and how many divorces you had. No wonder those poor devils got all strung out on vodka.
But our proposed card would be even more foolproof than Stalin's. The one they're talking about has your thumbprint on it, all your personal information, and an all but INFINITE memory to record where you go and what you do. It's kinda like wearing one of those beepers on your leg when you're under house arrest -- only they haven't caught me yet!
Everyone is saying, "Well, if you have nothing to hide, then why would you CARE that the government can track you down and figure out where you've been?"
Maybe the answer to that is that I don't care if the GOVERNMENT knows where I've been, but this thing threatens the Constitutional right of all Americans to be sneaky in the private sector.
What if you spent 1997 hanging out in Rudy's Adult Video? It was just sort of a PHASE you were going through, and yes, you did charge $3,500 on Rudy's Adult Video three-for-the-price-of-two video specials. But you had no idea that when you applied for a job 10 years later at one of those super-high-security Enron-type companies, they would do a "deep background check" tied to your National Eye-Dee Card. "Take a seat, Mr. Wilson. We have a few questions about the 'Nurse Nasty' video series starring Jasmine St. Clair. Is it true that you watched all 34 volumes?"
Then there's the specter of multi-million-dollar divorce cases. Divorce lawyers eventually get a look at everything -- credit card receipts, airline tickets, pictures of your dogs, snapshots of the Tahiti vacation with Tiffany. But normally they at LEAST have to hire a private detective to smoke this stuff out. Sooner or later, believe me, some divorce lawyer would get the right to go into that computer chip and see what he could fish out of there.
There aren't many people left alive from the Depression years, when the Congress first passed the Social Security Act, but part of the big debate over it was whether it was constitutional to REQUIRE people to have an official number. I can remember old coots in Texas who were ready to go to prison rather than to submit to being numbered by the government. There were preachers who said it was Satan's work, a sign of the end times, when everyone would have the mark of the beast.
And look what happened. The old coots were right! After Congress repeatedly said that the Social Security number would ONLY be used to keep track of pension benefits, it was used by every government agency -- including law enforcement -- and every private agency -- including credit card databases that can track you back to the beginning of time -- to make sure you weren't pulling a fast one.
Later the same thing happened with drivers licenses. The purpose of a drivers license is ... class? ... to DRIVE A CAR. Nothing else. I don't imagine there are people still around who, when getting their license, say, "Now you're not gonna use this information for any other purpose, are you?" Because they already know the answer.
(While we're on this subject, I'd like to express my admiration for the state of New Jersey, which doesn't require you to have your picture on your license. They still believe the purpose of the document is to identify you just well enough to verify that you passed your driving test. How quaint.)
In other words, we know what they're SAYING about just using the National Eye-Dee Card to track down criminals and people who are evading taxes and stuff like that, but we've got a history here, and it's not pretty. Up until October, we all thought it was illegal to listen in on your phone conversations or snoop into your e-mail or monitor your conversations with your lawyer -- and all THOSE assumptions turned out to be wrong.
The reason Americans don't like Eye-Dee cards, Social Security numbers, or anything else that tells the authorities what we're up to is that we don't trust the authorities. We never have and we never will. If you can say one thing about the Constitution, it's a document that keeps screaming out "Don't trust the authorities." We don't trust 'em because we know they're LAZY, for one thing, so they'll always choose to do things the simplest way they can get away with. Just how much evidence has to build up against you before they say, "Oh, what the hell, let's run this ole boy's computer chip through the main-frame"? They'll do it because it'll be EASY to do it.
And three days later, it doesn't matter if they say, "Sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. Stephens. By the way, there is nothing illegal about dressing up in women's clothing and renting a suite at the Flamingo in Vegas. We want you to know that that's perfectly fine with us, and we didn't mean to intrude into your private life."
We need a Constitutional amendment, I think. Not that the amendments seem to matter anymore, but let's give it a shot. Let's call it the "Right to Be Sneaky" amendment. Who knew that, even in America, we would ever have to apologize for slinking around.
Joe Bob Briggs writes a number of columns for UPI and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his Web site at joebob-briggs.com. Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas, 75221.