The ID Divide: Addressing the Challenges of Identification and Authentication in American Society

Privacy and Security

Article Snapshot


Cassandra Q. Butts and Peter Swire


Center for American Progress, 2008


This paper looks at problems faced by people who do not have official identification such as driver’s licenses.

Policy Relevance

Policymakers should address problems faced by many Americans who lack official identification to avoid their exclusion from important aspects of life.

Main Points

  • This paper describes problems faced by people who cannot satisfy requests for official identification, perhaps because they do not drive, are victims of identity theft, have been mistakenly placed on security watch lists, or for other reasons.
  • The number of circumstances in which official identification is requested in American life has risen sharply. Those who lack identification may be unable to vote, travel, or work.
  • Four types of problems emerge from this study:
    • The growing importance of watch lists.
    • The growing population of people affected by identity theft or data leaks.
    • The fact that some populations are more affected by these problems than others.
    • Stricter identification requirements.
  • To avoid excluding some populations  from American life, policymakers should emphasize that ID requirements must:
    • Be imposed only when there is a real need to improve security.
    • That systems are accurate.
    • That ID is available to all.
    • That redress is available when problems arise.
    • That systems are fairly financed.

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