National voter identification: interesting NAS report raises important questions for consideration

I recently had a chance to read a very short, helpful and approachable report from the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on the concept of national identification systems. The report, “IDs — Not That Easy: Questions About Nationwide Identity Systems” — has actually been around for a few years (published in 2002), but the questions it raises about national identification systems are quite relevant today, especially for the concept of a national voter identification system.

In fact, I thought that many of the questions the report raises are highly relevant for the developing statewide voter identification and authentication systems in many states.

The report, like many NAS studies, isn’t about providing solutions. Instead, it is focused on raising important questions that should be asked about identification systems. The report categorizes the questions into three basic types: legal, policy, and technological.

My take is that anyone who is interested in the debate over voter identification systems would be well-served to read this report, especially the chapter on policy considerations. There, the basic questions posed by the NAS panel are for policymaker consideration of any proposed identification system are:

  1. What is the purpose of the system?
  2. What is the scope of the population that would be included in the proposed identification system?
  3. What is the scope of the data that would be included in the identification system’s database, or which could eventually be related to data in the identification system in the future?
  4. Who are the users of the system?
  5. What types of usage of the identification system would be allowed?
  6. Would participation in the identification system be mandatory or voluntary?
  7. What legal systems are in place to protect the integrity of the data, the privacy and rights of those who have information in the system, and for resolving liability for misuse or failure of the identification system?

Of course, the report goes into detailed discussion of these questions, as well as questions about the legal and technological issues of identification systems.