So there’s a new bill out of Arizona which (basically) requires people to carry their papers on them at all times in order to aid the police officers of that state in cracking down on illegal immigration, along with a number of other measures.
There’s a famous quote by Ben Franklin, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” This has always struck me as a horribly vindictive statement. There are always trade-offs between liberty and safety; the real issue is managing the various exchanges so that you don’t come out with a net loss, and the rate of exchange really depends on the individual person. It might be that Franklin was using careful wording when he said “essential liberty”, but then again, I’m not really of the opinion that the phrase “essential liberty” is really meaningful. As the risk of getting stabbed in the back approaches zero, the amount of liberties I would give up approaches infinity.
I’m also usually for increased government information. A lot of our infrastructure and services would run better if there were, say, ubiquitous fingerprinting. It would allow the identification of runaways and dead bodies, it would help solve crimes, and it would make identity verification much faster (though a system of that sort would always have problems). Divulging medical information would greatly increase the speed of medical research (though this would require that no one could turn you down for insurance, or fire you from your job, because of that information). Full demographic information would better allow government distribution of funding, as well as sociological research that would further our understanding of which government programs are working and which aren’t.
So I don’t really see the problem with requiring people to carry around their ID. That’s not such a big loss of liberty, especially since it doesn’t even affect the majority of people who are carrying wallets and driver’s licenses in the first place. You might argue about the right of the minority who don’t want to have to carry that stuff, but I’m willing to place something as basic as identification as a requirement for living in this country (just as I’m willing to require the payment of taxes).
The big problem with the bill is that it’s being perceived as racist. This is more a problem with the general perception of the government than anything else. People assume that a law passed like this is just going to be used to give the police a bullshit reason to stop and detain brown people. It might – I’m not from Arizona, I don’t know how deep the police and government prejudice runs.
All I’m saying is that requiring identification is actually a pretty good idea.