Giuliani: ID cards won't curb freedoms

Identification cards don't need to translate into a loss of fundamental freedoms, the former mayor of New York says at the E-Gov 2002 conference.

Margaret Kane Former Staff writer, CNET News
Margaret is a former news editor for CNET News, based in the Boston bureau.
Margaret Kane
3 min read
WASHINGTON--U.S. citizens may need to carry national identification cards someday, but that doesn't need to translate into a loss of fundamental freedoms in the name of safety, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Wednesday.

"We need a better way to properly ID people that's more effective (than current means). There's a trade-off we have to make between privacy and the protection of everybody...in society," said Giuliani, following a keynote speech at the E-Gov 2002 conference here. More than 10,000 people are attending the four-day conference, which concludes Thursday.

A national ID system has become a hot-button issue within the tech industry and nationally. Technology experts and privacy advocates have been debating the merits of national ID cards and other identification systems and trying to figure out how to make sure they wouldn't be abused.

Giuliani said ID cards do not necessarily equal a loss of freedom, adding that other democratic countries require citizens to carry ID cards.

"We have to separate fundamental freedoms...from those things that we had the luxury to do in the past," he said.

Giuliani's speech was met with standing ovations and flag waving from the crowd at the show, which included employees of federal, state and local governments. The conference here is being run jointly with one on "homeland security," reflecting a new focus from the technology world and the government of using IT for defense.

Giuliani discussed ways that technology aided him as mayor, including helping him handle the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Before those attacks, Giuliani's best-known achievement had been lowering the city's crime rate, a feat he said was greatly helped by the use of technology to conduct daily monitoring of crime.

The city had previously analyzed crime statistics on a yearly basis, but he initiated a program that helped track crime at the precinct level on a daily basis and plotted that data on geographic and time bases to more efficiently deploy police officers.

Similar programs were used in the city's correctional facilities to help reduce violence at Riker's Island by 80 percent, he said.

Technology also helped open up the city to citizens, he said, making their lives easier. For instance, New York has put in place ways for citizens to use the Internet to pay parking tickets and apply for permits for everything from opening a restaurant to tackling new construction.

"One of the great complaints about government, certainly in New York City, was that it was unusable...and unmanageable," he said. "E-government is a way to change that."

Giuliani's Emergency Management System, created in 1996, used technological simulations to train for emergencies including terrorist attacks, fires and other crises, Giuliani said.

"I can't emphasize more how important that it is to prepare for the worst thing you can imagine," he said. "Using technology to try and play games for what might happen, even if they're not exactly right when the emergencies occur," is an important way to prepare.

Giuliani cautioned attendees to prepare for the unexpected but to remember that "life goes on."

"At home, we have to do everything we can to be better prepared," he said. "At the same time, we have to get people to relax and go about their daily lives."

Giuliani disagreed with the notion that the world is now a more dangerous place.

"It was as if a curtain was in front of us; we saw the world the way we wanted to see it. Now the curtain has been lifted, and we can see the world the way it really is," he said. "Having said that, and recognized that, even before doing anything about it we're safer."

Asked if he would be interested in becoming secretary of the proposed Department of Homeland Security, Giuliani said that he hadn't decided on his future but that the job that he really wanted was to become "general manager of the (New York) Yankees."