Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Why Are Democrats Pushing Digital IDs?

From Beijing to Boston, the push for digital IDs is picking up momentum.


The prime minister of China, Li Keqiang, recently announced that the country will introduce a strict digital-ID system later this year. Of course, the idea of China making digital IDs mandatory should shock no one. 

After all, China is a country that monitors its citizens’ every move, every message, every utterance, and every purchase. Having lived in the country for the best part of two years, I’m surprised that it took the Chinese Communist Party this long to roll out digital IDs.


What if the United States, supposedly the land of the free, was to go down the very same path? As Reclaim the Net recently reported, Democrat Rep. Bill Foster, currently running for reelection in Illinois' new 11th Congressional District, is pushing a bipartisan bill that would, if signed, make digital IDs a reality in America. According to Reclaim, the bill looks set to be approved by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The summary of the bill notes that it would create an "Improving Digital Identity Task Force to establish a government-wide effort to develop secure methods for governmental agencies to validate identity attributes to protect the privacy and security of individuals and support reliable, interoperable digital identity verification in the public and private sectors.”

Who will be a part of the force? For starters, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS will “award grants to states to upgrade systems that provide drivers' licenses or other types of identity credentials to support the development of highly secure, interoperable state systems that enable digital identity verification.” Remember the DHS’s currently on-pause Disinformation Governance Board? More scope for the panopticon, more light shining in on you, the citizen.

Among the many politicians on the left expressing their unreserved support for the bill, Carolyn Maloney, the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has been quick to claim “a secure digital identity infrastructure” should be viewed as “an essential foundation to American economic and national security.”

Although digital IDs may, for example, help reduce instances of fraud, as Kentucky-native Rep. James Comer has warned, the bill would likely do more harm than good. A digital identity is a body of information that exists online. It captures a person's online activity as well as their biometric behavioral data, such as fingerprints, palm prints, hand geometry, facial scans, DNA, and iris and retina recognition.


This makes digital identities attractive for criminals. Last year, in Argentina, a major identity breach took place, and the records of every single individual (some 45 million) registered on Argentina’s national database were stolen. People’s private details were auctioned off. 

But the U.S. has better cyber-defense mechanisms in place, some will say. Not true. As I have noted elsewhere, the United States’ ability to fend off cyberattacks is weak. Moreover, the U.S. is by far the most targeted country in the world. Data is the new oil. And biometric data, to switch up the metaphor, is the holy grail of intimate information. Cast your mind back to 2015, when hackers stole the fingerprints of 5.6 million Americans. What happened to those prints? It’s very possible they were sold on the dark web.

Will there ever be a good time for digital IDs? Probably not. Right now, the U.S. government is ill-equipped to handle the biometric data of 3 million people, never mind 330 million people. 

Moreover, digital IDs require a person to own a smartphone. While 85 percent of American adults own a smart device, some 30 million do not. Why should they be forced to purchase a device they never needed before?

Even the ACLU has sounded the alarm on digital IDs. If introduced, such measures wouldn't be built to give Americans more control over their personal information. Instead, such IDs would be built to further advance the interests of corporations and government. 

Perhaps the most disconcerting thing among many about the prospect of digital IDs is that they are the first step to instituting a social-credit system similar to what is already in place in China. As the author Keean Bexte previously noted, when a government attaches a digital ID to the purchases you make, the comments you post, and the interactions you have, your profile can be updated in real-time. A failure to comply could result in immediate punishment anywhere. 

A social-credit system in the United States of America—that’s ludicrous, you say. Is it? The West is already sleepwalking into a social-credit system; financial de-platforming is already a brutal reality. From Beijing to Boston, the push for digital IDs is picking up momentum. It is time for the people to push back, before it’s too late.