While the fallout from responses to the COVID-19 pandemic has further eroded people’s trust in institutions like government, media, and business, that hasn’t prevented politicians from further cultivating a technocratic authoritarian state that once was left to the authors of science fiction to explore. Since COVID hysteria first emerged, skeptics have been proven correct time and time again with their forecasts of initiatives that the declared state of emergency which followed the viruses spread would advance. Vaccine passports, medical segregation, gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and other supposed “conspiracy theories” have turned out to be literal facts. Digital IDs perhaps stand at the forefront of that plethora of phantasmagorical schemes.
Like pandemic simulation exercises which preceded COVID-19, ample evidence existed which displayed the underlying agenda to implement digital IDs, namely evidenced through the Bill Gates led ID2020 alliance. However, launching such an over-arching initiative which would recalibrate how the levers of society operate has proven to be easier said than done. Nearly two years ago, the first iteration of legislation aimed this agenda named the Improving Digital Identity Act of 2020 entered into the fold after being introduced by Illinois Democrat Bill Foster, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin, Georgia Republican Barry Loudermilk and New York Republican John Katko under the guise of helping improve existing databases and information technology systems. Coincidentally, the proposed legislation was introduced into the House of Representatives on September 11th, 2020 of all days before being referred to the House Committees on Oversight and Reform, as well as Science, Space, and Technology, and lastly Ways and Means. Foster spoke on his drafted legislation during a webinar held by ID2020 itself just two months after the bill’s introduction to the house.
Though the bill would languish in committee before ultimately dying out, Foster introduced another iteration of it the following year, titled the Improving Digital Identity Act of 2021 which like its predecessor was referred to relevant House Committees. Unlike the 2020 incarnation of the bill, the 2021 edition has advanced through committee hearings since its introduction to the house on June 30th, 2021. On July 14th, 2022, the proposed legislation took its most recent step toward being actualized when the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing for consideration of and mark-ups to the bill. Latching onto that momentum, New York Congressional Representative and Chair of the House Oversight Committee Carolyn Maloney introduced an amendment to the act, signifying the stake the committee she leads has taken on ultimately achieving its passage. Just a day before the House Oversight Committee’s last hearing on Foster’s 2021 bill, Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced her intent to push a similar bill in the Senate, conveying a multi-faceted strategy to finally implement a digital ID sanctioned by the federal government.
While efforts have stalled since the first real attempts to create a digital ID system in the US, the global landscape of this endeavor has seen more traction. In her State of the Union Address in September of 2020, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen declared:
“Every time an App or website asks us to create a new digital identity or to easily log on via a big platform, we have no idea what happens to our data in reality. That is why the Commission will propose a secure European e-identity. One that we trust and that any citizen can use anywhere in Europe to do anything from paying your taxes to renting a bicycle. A technology where we can control ourselves what data is used and how.”
In June of 2021, the European Commission formally announced its intent to implement a bloc-wide digital ID. While the EU effort to implement this agenda has yet to introduced an official ID, its clear intent conveys that it is simply a matter of time. On the whole European governments, have passed much more restrictive measures veiled as pandemic response efforts showing the political climate is much more conducive to the introduction of digital IDs throughout and beyond the EU.
One application of digital ID that highlights how the technology could be used against citizens is highlighted in the EU’s recently passed Digital Services Act. The landmark law is aimed at regulating online content and sets a framework for unique content IDs which can be linked to users’ digital IDs which in turn would be prerequisite to signing up for everything from social media to e-commerce accounts. The invasive application of digital ID linked to content online appears to be a red flag for advocates of free speech concerned that the practice could be weaponized against dissent and would further restrictive laws designating political wrong-think as hate speech. Ultimately, the dawn of digital ID could serve as what brings the days of anonymity online to an end.
State-side, lawmakers view their latest proposed legislation much more auspiciously. In an attempt to assuage any concerns about digital IDs serving as an all-encompassing means of government surveillance over its citizens, proponents of the Improving Digital Identity Act of 2021 have assured citizens that the bill would prohibit the creation of a “unilateral central national identification registry relating to digital identity verification.” Instead, the bill would focuses on creating a standardization of existing digital IDs through efforts fledged by the US Department of Homeland Security and the National Institute for Standards and Technology, the bureaucracy that lost most Americans favor when it took longer than a decade to reach its official conclusions on the collapse of WTC Building 7, which was starkly omitted from the 9/11 Commission Report released in 2004.
While the narrative tailored in favor of the bill highlights existing cyber security issues to digital IDs already implemented across different agencies of the federal government, the underlying skepticism that has built over the last few years sees those assurances are taken with a grain of salt. Concurrently, the build up of the Federal Reserve toward developing and ultimately launching a Central Bank Digital Currency perhaps best highlights the inevitable emergence of a uniform national digital ID that politicians deliberating in Congress swear is not their aim. The enforcement mechanism CBDC would provide in tandem to its adjacent digital IDs has been a profound concern of vocal critics of both initiatives.
The deaf stance rejecting Americans opposition to digital ID shows how little the decline in trust of government resonates with Congress, simultaneously showing that the will of the people if the furthest thing from what directs their actions. As things stand, the Improving Digital Identity Act of 2021 proves that the Congress intends to get the digital ID it desires by any means necessary, regardless of their constituents opinion on the issue.