Hong Kong Identity Card
“May I see some identification, please?” asked a retail clerk in my home town Seattle taking my check. I said certainly and handed the sales woman my Hong Kong identity card. She looked at it blankly for a moment then said, “Can I see some other kind of identification?”
Sometimes when I’m feeling cranky or mischievous, I hand over my Hong Kong ID card when I need to produce some kind of identification. Why not? It is a perfectly valid document. It has my photograph on it. I know of no law that specifies that my state driver’s license has become a national ID card. At least not yet.
The United States is groping towards a national ID card system, compelled both by worries about security in an age of terrorism and the need to control immigration. In doing so it could learn some lessons from Hong Kong.
In the U. S. the driver’s license, issued by individual states, has become a de facto identity card. It is used more for cashing checks and opening bank accounts to getting on aircraft even for domestic flights.
Call me too literal-minded, but a driver’s license is for driving. Identity verification is something else. Why should citizenship be confused with a demonstrated ability navigate through heavy traffic without causing an accident?
I was reminded of the need for such a card by the controversy over Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law. That state has, if nothing else, put the cart before the horse. Before the police can check on somebody’s “papers” one needs to settle on what “papers” a person should be required to carry.
The U.S. clearly has a need for some kind of identification card to cash checks, to board airplanes, even to enter a federal building to pick up tax forms. But Americans instinctively balk at the idea of having to carry around a national identity card. Since strictly speaking nobody actually has to have a driver’s license, we kid ourselves into thinking it is still voluntary.
Before returning to the U.S., I lived for sixteen years in Hong Kong, where everybody over a certain age must obtain an ID card and carry it with him or her at all times. I never considered this a serious infringement on my freedom, although there certainly was a hassle having to obtain one (and to replace one when lost.)
The Hong Kong police can and do stop people at random and ask them to produce their ID cards. It is not uncommon on the streets to see a couple policemen huddled around a young Chinese man inspecting his ID. That this involves profiling is undeniable. In my sixteen years there, I never once was asked by a policeman to produce my card. It was assumed that being a Westerner I had entered on a valid work permit.
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