A crisis of identity: Verifying America’s voters for the 2012 presidential election

Last updated: 18 December 2019

With a presidential election upon us this year, voter ID is once again a big issue in the US.  So as to ensure that every voter in November’s ballots is indeed who they claim to be, many believe that voters should be required to show their driver’s license (the de facto form of ID for US citizens) or state-issued non-driver’s photo ID when voting.  However, when one considers that 10 percent of voting-age US citizens do not have either of these forms of identification, this seems an unfair requirement.

The voter ID debate is really a symptom of a much bigger issue today: there is no universal form of secure and verifiable identification in the United States.  The US has state-issued driver’s licenses or ID cards – again, which not everyone has – and federally-issued social security cards.  The social security card was never meant to be a national form of identification or to prove ownership, so it is entirely insecure in its present form and lends itself to identity theft.  Now, with identity theft consistently the number one complaint to the Federal Trade Commission for the last twelve years, you could say the US is facing ‘a crisis of identity’.

CNN contributor David Frum (also a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast) brought this issue to light in an article this week.  In his opinion piece, Frum argues for a universal and reliable form of personal identification.  Frum says,

“On its face, it would carry only your name and image. That’s all most people need most of the time to confirm your identity; for example, when checking the name on your airline ticket against the person bearing the ticket…. Information beyond face and name would be encrypted inside the card and would be divulged only to specific scanners… Voting places would read only ‘eligible to vote?’”

What Frum describes, and what I have been advocating for many years, is a trusted digital identity credential based on smart card technology.  This is the same technology we use today in the US for our passports and to secure our government employees.  This credential could prove your identity in person or online, stop others from pretending to be you, and prevent others from using your identity credential if lost or stolen. We could offer this in the form of a brand new credential for US citizens.

Another way we can accomplish this is by upgrading the Social Security card.   If the Social Security card became a smart card, each citizen could be issued with a PIN or leverage their biometric information (i.e., fingerprint – which is matched inside the card thus not requiring a national biometrics database) to be associated with their social security number.  Only the legitimate card holder could verify their presence to the card which would then release the SSN or indicate proof of citizenship. It would not be necessary to print the SSN on the card as it can be securely maintained within the chip and only released when the citizen decides to allow it to be read. This would make the ability to use the Social Security number for fraud or to illegally obtain government services very difficult; it could possibly eliminate this fraud entirely.

Through Gemalto’s work on several e-ID projects throughout the world, I know that digital ID credentials based on smart card technology truly work to secure identities.  And I believe that providing a reliable and trusted form of ID to US citizens is only way to solve our identity crisis, and allow secure access to government services, including voting.