Privacy SOS

Low-income people first to be sacked with new “internet ID” tracking system

The federal government is rolling out a pilot of the long-awaited (and feared) "National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace" project. In English, that means "an ID number to track you everywhere you go on the internet."

As so often happens, the first people to get hit with the new privacy-invasive tracking system will be low-income people. As TechDirt reports, the

program has been in (slow) motion for nearly three years, but now, at a time when the public's trust in government is at an all time low, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST — itself still reeling a bit from NSA-related blowback) is testing the program in Michigan and Pennsylvania. The first tests appear to be exclusively aimed at accessing public programs, like government assistance. The government believes this ID system will help reduce fraud and overhead, by eliminating duplicated ID efforts across multiple agencies.

But the program isn't strictly limited to government use. The ultimate goal is a replacement of many logins and passwords people maintain to access content and participate in comment threads and forums. This "solution," while somewhat practical, also raises considerable privacy concerns.

When you receive government assistance for food, healthcare, or housing, you don't have a choice but to participate in invasive schemes like these. Making matters worse, you may even be used as a political football to implement even more Draconian tracking regimes. Politicians often make big hay by assuring their voters that they won't rest until every cent of funding to the poor is tracked. The privacy invasions go so far as requiring drug testing of welfare recipients. But all isn't equal. While low-income mothers may lose their paltry welfare assistance for smoking pot, the same cannot be said of oil or farm executives, whose corporations receive billions of dollars in public assistance yet face no such degrading searches.

Those of us who don't rely on public assistance should take note that the poor are often the first to be hit with new privacy violations, and pay closer attention to how low-income people are tracked, monitored, and assessed by giant government data systems. And that's not just for altruistic reasons. What begins as tracking of the poor rarely ends there.

Read more on the "internet ID card" that EFF calls "radical" and "concerning."

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.