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What is a National ID Card?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A National ID card is a form of identification, usually with name, picture and address (at minimum) that is required to be carried by citizens of a particular nation. The US and the UK do not have these cards, but there has been continued discussion as to whether implementation of a National ID card might be appropriate given the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US, and several terrorist attacks in the UK.

There are countries that have a National ID card system. Many European countries and several countries in Asia like Thailand and Malaysia require such identification. The fact that other countries have implemented an identification system is not necessarily a helpful argument in considering whether such a card is appropriate in the US or UK.

In the US, the argument against a National ID card has been longstanding, and supported by many in both of the major political parties. When social security numbers were first assigned in the 1930s, some people worried that being assigned a number would become a means of identifying and tracking each individual. There have been some suggestions along the way that the social security card was the original National ID card, as a means of sifting through people who are not legally supposed to be in the US.

The debate was shelved for a time, but as uses for the social security card increased, Both President Carter and Reagan stated opposition to the card becoming a National ID card. Senator Hillary Clinton’s attempt at creating a universal health care plan in 1993 made the suggestion that National ID cards be used to identify citizens so they could receive health care. This suggestion was rejected by a number of people.

Yet after the massive terrorist attack on 9/11, anxiety increased regarding the means by which people could be easily identified as citizens or non-citizens. In 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which added stricter provisions for obtaining a driver’s license that would be used by all states in order to issue state licenses, or state identification cards for non-drivers. People fought the passage of this act too, sometimes with great vehemence. There still exists noncompliance with this law in several states.

Many argue that we have several forms of National ID card types in place. You can’t work legally in the US without giving your social security number, and you can’t file taxes without one, in most cases. You also aren’t able to claim your children on taxes unless they have social security numbers. Try writing a check without presenting a driver’s license, except at your bank, and you’ll find it very difficult. You must show identification before you board a plane, and sometimes even when you use a credit card. This fuels the argument that a national card identifying citizens is no “big deal.”

Those opposed believe that requiring National Identification cards may increase government or domestic spying. They may cite Hitler’s regime where all Jews were required to carry papers or identification. Opponents also argue that a National Identification card would violate civil liberties and the right to privacy, and abuses the intent of the Constitution.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
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Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia...
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