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Re-Enter the Refuseniks?

Sunni Maravillosa

It's come to this at last. Governments around the world are calling for national ID (NID) cards, or for increasing the security measures on existing cards. The justification, of course, is the current war on terrorism. Ask "Cui bono?" (Who benefits?) of 9-11 and the answer looks increasingly like "Authoritarians everywhere."

And I do mean everywhere. NID hype is playing loudest in the United States and Britain, yet other countries are working hard to join the goose-stepping. For example, Malaysia has recently instituted compulsory NIDs for citizens age twelve and up. The cards have computer chips which store copies of the subject's fingerprints. Other places are considering similar moves.

NIDs--especially "smart cards" that can carry a great deal of encoded information--are viewed as the solution to many "problems" the Thought Police have. They can be used to: verify identity via biometric information; reveal banking, health, voting, and similar records; and track travel and purchases, for starters. Because of the presence of biometric information--supposedly unique body information, such as a fingerprint or retinal scan--these cards are touted as strong security against would-be terrorists. According to various polls, Americans are increasingly willing to accept a NID, primarily because they think that it will increase security.

Sovereign individuals ought to consider this NID movement as the most dangerous threat to liberty on the planet. (The enumeration-and-tracking fervor isn't limited to the national scale; UN officials have heard a proposal for a global unique identifying number for each person in the world.) The more people can be tracked, monitored, and checked, the easier they are to control. The easier they are to control, the less free they are.

Particularly insidious are the so-called "voluntary IDs". While originally used for apparently benign purposes (such as getting social welfare benefits in some Scandinavian countries), it's usually an easy matter to expand their use, and the information required of the subjects. It's also easy to take something that's widely accepted on a voluntary basis and quietly make it mandatory. A clear case of function creep is the American Social Security Number; old cards stated that the number "is not to be used for identification purposes". (The law says these ID uses are illegal too, not that the Department of Justice cares.) Anyone who's tried to get a driver's license, passport, or even see a doctor without giving the number knows how antiquated that notion is. Many businesses won't do business with someone who doesn't give a number.

The databases collected by various interests are often sold, in whole or part (in America, this can include birth, marital, and driving records, banking information, medical records, credit card usage, and buying habits at stores with "discount" cards, such as supermarkets). If all these databases--plus whatever the Thought Police require on the card--use the NID number, it won't take much to build a formidable dossier on anyone, without that individual's knowledge or consent. The potential for misuse by petty bureaucrats becomes even greater, particularly against those who are viewed as unfriendly to their interests. And what might law enforcement officers with a license to destroy lives in pursuit of "state security" do? In the US, true patriots--and just about anyone who questions the war and any action relating to it--have already been given notice that they're potential Thought Police targets.

Given the dire consequences, both of submitting to a NID and of refusing to be numbered, the choice to be made isn't an easy one. Nor should it be made lightly. Let's consider the pros and cons of each choice. First, the negatives:

If you submit to the NID, you are in the system, in the database, and along for the ride wherever the Thought Police and busybody bureaucrats decide to take you. Your every non-cash purchase may be trackable, along with all bank transactions. Your travel will certainly be monitored, and you could be required to register with the local Gestapo every time you move (it happens in many countries, and has been suggested in the US). Your medical records could be opened up to potential employers as well as LEOs who check your papers. Anyone who sees your number could access all kinds of sensitive information about you, without your knowledge or consent. It's possible that inept busybodies--or malicious Thought Police types--could wipe you out of existence, or otherwise wreak havoc with your records, and therefore your life. If certain demographic information were included, you could be discriminated against. Much of your life will be open to The State, and your business will be conducted at their pleasure, not your need or desire. Your pro-freedom friends may call you a sellout, and you yourself may begin to question your adherence to your principles.

If you forego the NID, you'll be outside the system, and depending on how diligently the state tracks and punishes those outside, your life may be better or worse than those inside. Already, getting meaningful employment without papers is all but impossible in many places, including the US. You may be severely limited in any aspect of living a normal life: no dealing with checks, credit cards, or anything but cash; no home mortgage or rental agreement; no driving; no flying; no medical care; and no respect from the mainstream community for holding fast to your principles. Indeed, if function creep proceeds so that a NID is required for every activity or transaction, you'll not be able to set foot inside "civilization". That may seem like a benefit, rather than a negative; but being outside isn't always easy. While you are outside, many of your choices and opportunities are constrained by the very fact that you are free. You may become depressed if you choose to focus on this aspect of the situation. You may become a pariah, or worse, in your family or community. You yourself may begin to question the wisdom of your choice, as its challenges wear you down. You can be targeted by the state for "crimes" real or imagined. You can be separated from those you love. You can be killed.

Now, the positives:

Being in the system makes you much more able to transact business. This includes pursuing other pro-freedom strategies. Having papers gives you some degree of protection, so you can conduct whatever smash-the-state business you wish with fewer concerns about being an immediate target. Using the system against itself is a monkey-wrenching choice available mainly to those within the system; it's an activity that can bring success and amusement. While in the system, you can help those who remain outside in a variety of ways. You can help them to do things they otherwise couldn't. You can employ them, barter with them, support the grey market they rely on, be a stop on the freedom underground railroad... With a little creativity and effort, many more possibilities offer themselves. Some offer little risk, others more. They all help you be true to your principles while appearing to go along.

Not being a cog in the immense state machine means that you do not support it in any way. The immense freedom that one feels as a result is amazing. The feeling of living in accordance with one's principles is liberating, exhilarating. Knowing that you're following the path that's best for human nature can make many of the challenges of being outside worth bearing. You may become an inspiration to others, and may encourage others to follow the refusenik course. This will further weaken the state, helping us all to be freer of its poisonous influences. (If word of your non-cooperation gets around, you certainly will be an inspiration to others. It's a difficult choice to make, but one very worthwhile if you're committed to it and enter it realistically.)

I know from personal experience how lonely such a crusade can seem, particularly if you live in a statist haven and it seems you're the only one who values freedom. I also know from personal experience that you aren't alone. Part of the reason the thugs can institute wholesale destruction of liberty is the fear they instill. That fear is based on their willingness to back up their threats with force. Ruby Ridge, Michael New, Shirley Allen, Peter McWilliams, Elian Gonzalez, Waco... these are just a few examples.

Gandhi: the original refusenik?

I used the term refusenik earlier. If you aren't familiar with it, refuseniks were the Soviet Jews who wanted to leave the USSR, but who were repeatedly denied permission. Because they wanted to leave, they were hassled in numerous ways, often for years. But they refused to go along with the Soviet system, enduring its worst until they died or were permitted to leave. They refused to cooperate.

If you think about it, Gandhi was perhaps the original refusenik. In both South Africa and India, he refused to cooperate with the tyranny of each state over its own citizens. His methods involved fighting back, to be sure, but in ways that were always calculated to show his opponent at its worst. (The movie Gandhi, starring Ben Kingsley, is an excellent introduction to the subject.) He did not initiate force, nor did he ever advocate the initiation of force by Indians. His path was that of non-cooperation.

In South Africa, where all "colored" individuals were required to carry identity papers and live as second-class citizens, Gandhi refused to carry the paper, and organized many Indians living there to join in. In India, he spoke out against British imperialism and through non-cooperation, brought about the end of British rule. One example from the movie is particularly compelling: salt manufacture and selling were heavily regulated, such that the British had a lock on both. In defiance of the law, Gandhi went to the sea and made salt. The British chose to ignore this action, but later decided to take action when hundreds of Indians followed Gandhi's lead. In one scene, authorities loyal to Britain and Gandhi's followers face off outside a salt-making company. The authorities beat off the Indians as they approach its gates. The Indians peacefully accept the blows, and keep coming. Some of the wounded rejoin the march, only to be beaten again. That demonstration encapsulated the essence of tyranny, and is widely regarded as the beginning of the end of British rule in India.

A difference in protests between the situations in India and the Soviet Union is that of organization. Gandhi became a symbol--and a lightning rod--for his cause. Millions of Indians came to join Gandhi's cause, making their strength obvious. There is no comparable figure for the Soviet Jews who became the refuseniks. They acted individually, or in small groups. However, the results are essentially the same. With the world watching peaceable individuals who just wanted to be left alone to live their lives, and the tyrannical responses of the governments to them, tyranny backed off.

Making your choice

Let's face it: the stakes are high. No matter how benign the stated purpose, no matter how trivial the information required by your local flavor of Thought Police, any NID is a privacy and security threat. With the ease of creating and altering computer records today, it would be a relatively simple matter for function creep to make that innocuous number the bane of your existence. It's a shorter slide than any of us would like to consider from a NID to a Soviet or Nazi-style society. Your current situation may be tolerable, but how certain can you be that it will last? Do you really want the opposition forces who've just come to power to know you voted against them? Do you want your local sheriff to know how many and what kinds of guns you own? Do you think it's anyone's business what kinds of videos you like to watch?

Not cooperating will be uncomfortable, inconvenient, and ultimately, dangerous for many. But remember: sixty years ago, European Jews went along with Nazi requirements for papers. Then they went along with the yellow Star of David armbands. Then they went along with being herded into Jewish sectors. Then they went to the concentration camps--and gas chambers.

Life is full of difficult choices, and this time is no exception. But we do have a choice. In or out, private protestor or active refusenik, I encourage everyone who values freedom to find some way of not cooperating with whatever identification or numbering scheme your local Thought Police have, or are working on. As both Gandhi and the Soviet refuseniks showed, non-cooperation works.

(c)2002 Doing Freedom Magazine


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