Despite his campaign assurances that as president he would protect personal privacy, Democratic candidate Howard Dean, less than two years ago, advocated “smart card” IDs for all Americans and pushed a requirement that PCs include card readers to assure a user’s identity before going online.

Columnist Declan McCullagh, writing in CNet News, says in 2002 Dean made the pronouncements at a conference sponsored by a smart-card company.

“We must move to smarter license cards that carry secure digital information that can be universally read at vital checkpoints,” Dean said, according to the column. “Issuing such a card would have little effect on the privacy of Americans.”

McCullagh also reports Dean suggested computer makers should be required to include an ID card reader in their PCs, thereby requiring a user to insert his card into the reader for verification before being allowed to log on the Internet.

“One state’s smart-card driver’s license must be identifiable by another state’s card reader,” Dean said. “It must also be easily commercialized by the private sector and included in all PCs over time – making the Internet safer and more secure.”

The former Vermont governor argued unauthorized people then could not gather government data online, nor could minors access adult sites or chat rooms.

“Many new computer systems are being created with card reader technology. Older computers can add this feature for very little money,” the columnist quotes Dean as saying.

Wrote McCullagh: “There’s probably a good reason why Dean spoke so vaguely: It’s unclear how such a system would work in practice. Must Internet cafes include uniform ID card readers on public computers? Would existing computers have to be retrofitted? Would tourists be prohibited from bringing laptops unless they sported uniform ID readers? … How did a politician who is said to be Internet-savvy concoct this scheme? Perhaps most importantly, does Dean still want to forcibly implant all of our computers with uniform ID readers?”

McCullagh says the Dean campaign has been unresponsive to questions about the candidate’s ID-card ideas.

At least one privacy advocate expressed concern about the proposal.

“I know of no other Democratic candidate who has this view on national ID,” Chris Hoofnagle, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the journalist. “I hope that he’d reconsider his policy on national ID because it has significant effects on individuals’ right to privacy and does not make the country more secure. If you think about it, the implication is that children would have to be issued cards as well. Are we talking about ID cards from birth?”

Dean made the speech in March 2002, just six months after national-security concerns were thrown to the forefront of policy debates due to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“It’s possible that Dean has a good explanation for his uniform ID card views,” McCullagh wrote, “and can account for how his principles apparently changed so radically over the course of just two years. Perhaps he can’t. But a refusal to answer difficult questions is not an attractive quality in a man who would be president.”

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