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Small World By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, December 19, 2001


"AND IT CAME TO PASS in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered…. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. And Joseph also went up…to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem,because he was of the house and lineage of David…." -- Luke 2:1-4

THE NEWS SLIPPED PAST almost unnoticed amid last week’s bombings, sales, and religious celebrations. In Geneva a United Nations gathering heard a proposal for registering, identifying, fingerprinting, and monitoring the movement of every human on our planet.

"If you look to our societies, we are already registered from birth until death," said the plan’s creator Pascal Smet, head of Belgium’s independent asylum review board. "Our governments know who we are and what we are.

"But one of the basic problems is the numbers of people in the world who are not registered, who do not have a set identity," he told the U.N. meeting, "and when these people move with real or fake passports, you cannot identify them. It’s a basic rule of management that if you want to manage something, you measure it. It’s the same with human beings and migration. But instead of measuring it, you have to register them."

The ancient Romans would have agreed, and would envy Smet for living in a world of computerized, sensorized surveillance in which people can be tagged like cattle, milked for taxes, and kept under ever-tighter control.

Two thousand years ago, according to Matthew’s Gospel, King Herod regarded the baby Jesus as a threat and sought to kill him. Joseph and Mary fled with the child into Roman-controlled Egypt just before Herod had all male infants in Bethlehem massacred.

If the Roman Empire had today’s emerging technologies, Joseph and Mary and Jesus would have been recognized and apprehended when they showed their national I.D. cards to cross the border into Egypt or to buy food or to rent a hotel room. Perhaps face-recognition cameras scanning crowds in Sinai would have detected them. They would have been chained and returned to Herod, the ruler of that place in time, to receive what his kingdom defined as justice.

Mr. Smet’s Belgium first issued national I.D. cards during World War I, when it was occupied by Germany. Today, report the Washington Post’s Robert O’Harrow, Jr., and Jonathan Krim, in Belgium "every citizen older than 15 has to carry one, and it is used as proof of age and identity for an array of consumer and financial transactions. It also allows Belgians to travel to several countries without a passport. Police officers in Belgium can request to see the card for any reason, at any time."

More than 100 nations, they report, have some form of national identification. In Spain a national I.D. card is mandatory for all citizens 14 and above. Argentines are required to get a card at age 8 and re-register at 17. Kenyans must carry an I.D. card at all times, as must Germans 16 and older.

Americans, traditionally distrustful of Big Government, used to resist a national I.D. card. But amid terrorism fears, a recent Pew Research Center poll reported that about 70 percent of us now "favor a system that would require people to show a card to authorities who request it." Much of our personal financial information is already widely accessible, and the Internal Revenue Service has hired ChoicePoint, Inc., to provide its employees with "instant access to 10 billion public records" about you and me. Just try to rent a hotel room without a major credit card. Those who pay cash for things such as interstate bus tickets are now instantly suspected of being violent or drug criminals.

A national I.D. is coming soon, perhaps disguised as your state driver’s license but carrying a unique code such as your Social Security number. It may in the beginning even be "voluntary," like the airline traveler I.D. that will permit you to bypass the two-hour inspection lines at airports – but soon those refusing to submit to this carding process will be suspect and surveiled. Within a decade, the national I.D. card will also be your United Nations I.D. card.

Soon a unique "biometric identifier" of the card – a retinal scan, fingerprint, or as with our soldiers and criminals, a DNA sample – will replace forgeable cards altogether. This, according to Smet, will "give people dignity by giving them an identity" even if their papers (as in, "May I see your papers, pleeeze!") get lost or destroyed. Today’s Herod would seek the baby Jesus to implant a computer chip somewhere deep under his skin as the mark of that beast that, in poet William Butler Yeats’ phrase, "its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born." Happy holidays.


Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.


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