While "security" cameras are busy recording the everyday activities of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Washington, D.C. residents and visitors, the District Council is considering a proposal to issue driver's licenses without checking applicants' Social Security numbers. If these policies seem wildly contradictory, they are. More than 4,500 closed-circuit television cameras operated by the District government are already monitored around-the-clock by city employees. A new plan submitted to the city administrator by the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency would expand the spying network to private businesses, Metro, and the D.C. Housing Authority. Short of martial law, it's hard to see how much more intrusive the government can get. As George Washington University law professor told The Examiner's Freeman Klopott last week, it will be "hard to find a place in the city where people aren't being watched by cameras." If having a creepy Big Brother watch your every move on camera actually reduced one's chances of being a crime victim, this outrageous violation of privacy might be considered a fair trade-off. But such is not the case. Councilman Phil Mendelson, D-at large, whose committee oversees homeland security issues, candidly admits that there is "no evidence" that surveillance cameras reduce crime, and if they can't stop criminals, they won't stop terrorists either. However, without such evidence, there's no justification for training thousands of prying electronic eyes on the local citizenry. As Prof. Rosen points out, London is using its half million closed-circuit "security" cameras to "collect taxes on cars traveling through downtown."
Yet Mendelson and fellow Council member Jim Graham, D-Ward 1, introduced a bill that would undermine real security measures by allowing applicants without Social Security numbers (such as D.C.'s 25,000 illegal immigrants) to obtain District driver's licenses. This is a callous attempt to bypass the Real ID Act, passed in response to a 9/11 Commission Report recommendation for tougher standards after it was discovered that 18 of the 19 hijackers used government-issued IDs to board planes on Sept. 11, 2001. The law requires that 18 separate security controls -- including SSNs -- be checked before bearers can board aircraft or enter federal facilities. Mendelson claims two of his constituents are "philosophically opposed" to using SSNs for "non Social Security purposes." The whole Council should be philosophically opposed to undermining real security measures designed to expose lawbreakers while simultaneously invading the privacy of people who haven't done anything wrong.