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Oracle  boss  urges  national ID cards, offers free software
(9/22/2001) Posted at 11:14 p.m.  PDT  Saturday,  Sept.  22,
2001

Oracle  boss  urges  national ID cards, offers free software
Idea driven by security concerns

BY PAUL ROGERS AND ELISE ACKERMAN

Mercury News

Broaching a controversial subject that has gained visibility
since  the  Sept.  11 terrorist attacks, Oracle Chairman and
CEO Larry Ellison is calling for the United States to create
a  national  identification  card  system -- and offering to
donate the software to make  it  possible.  Under  Ellison's
proposal,  millions  of Americans would be fingerprinted and
the information would  be  placed  on  a  database  used  by
airport security officials to verify identities of travelers
at airplane gates.

``We need  a  national  ID  card  with  our  photograph  and
thumbprint  digitized and embedded in the ID card,'' Ellison
said in an interview Friday night on  the  evening  news  of
KPIX-TV  in San Francisco. ``We need a database behind that,
so when you're walking into an airport and you say that  you
are Larry Ellison, you take that card and put it in a reader
and you put your thumb down and that  system  confirms  that
this is Larry Ellison,'' he said.

`Absolutely free'

Ellison's  company,  Oracle, based in Redwood Shores, is the
world's leading maker of database software.  Ellison,  worth
$15  billion,  is  among the world's richest people. ``We're
quite willing to provide the software  for  this  absolutely
free,'' he said.

Calls for national ID cards traditionally have been met with
fierce resistance from civil liberties groups, who  say  the
cards  would  intrude  on the privacy of Americans and allow
the government to track people's movements. But Ellison said
in the electronic age, little privacy is left anyway.

``Well,  this  privacy  you're concerned about is largely an
illusion,'' he said. ``All you  have  to  give  up  is  your
illusions,  not  any  of your privacy. Right now, you can go
onto the  Internet  and  get  a  credit  report  about  your
neighbor  and  find  out where your neighbor works, how much
they earn and if they had a late mortgage payment  and  tons
of  other  information.''  Attempts  by  the Mercury News to
reach   Ellison   for   further   comment   Saturday    were
unsuccessful.  Many  questions  about  the  proposal  remain
unanswered, such  as  whether  foreign  nationals  would  be
required  to have a card to enter the country. The hijackers
in the Sept. 11 attacks are not believed to have  been  U.S.
citizens.

In the TV interview with anchorman Hank Plante, Ellison said
shoppers have to disclose more information at malls to buy a
watch  than they do to get on an airplane. ``Let me ask you.
There are two different airlines. Airline A says before  you
board  that  airplane you prove you are who you say you are.
Airline B, no problem. Anyone  who  wants  the  price  of  a
ticket,  they  can go on that airline. Which airplane do you
get on?''

Oracle has a  longstanding  relationship  with  the  federal
government.  Indeed,  the  CIA was Ellison's first customer,
and the company's  name  stems  from  a  CIA-funded  project
launched in the mid-1970s that sought better ways of storing
and retrieving digital data. Civil libertarians said caution
is needed.

``It strikes me as a form of overreaction to the events that
we have experienced,'' said Robert  Post,  a  constitutional
law professor at the University of California-Berkeley. ``If
we allow a terrorist attack to destroy forms of freedom that
we  have  enjoyed,  we  will have given the victory to them.
This kind of recommendation  does  just  that.''  Post  said
while  such  a  system may catch some criminals, it could be
hacked or faked or evaded by capable terrorists. Nor  is  it
clear  that  such  a  system  would have foiled the Sept. 11
attacks, he said.


Strong support

But polls last week show many Americans support  a  national
ID  card. In a survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research
Center for the People & the Press,  seven  of  10  Americans
favored   a  requirement  that  citizens  carry  a  national
identity card at all times to show to a police officer  upon
request.  The  proposal had particularly strong support from
women. There was less support for government  monitoring  of
telephone calls, e-mails and credit card purchases.

The  FBI  already  has  an electronic fingerprint system for
criminals. In July  1999,  the  FBI's  Integrated  Automated
Fingerprint  Identification  System became operational. That
system  keeps  an  electronic   database   of   41   million
fingerprints,  with prints from all 10 fingers of people who
have been convicted of crimes.

Faster response

The  system  has  reduced  the  FBI's  criminal  fingerprint
processing  time  from  45 days to less than two hours. Paul
Bresson, an FBI spokesman in Washington, said Saturday  that
he  is  unaware  of  the  details  of Ellison's proposal and
declined comment.

Howard Gantman,  a  spokesman  for  Sen.  Dianne  Feinstein,
D-Calif.,  said  that  she would be interested in discussing
the idea with Ellison. ``She does feel that we  do  need  to
make  some  important  advances  in  terms of increasing our
security,'' Gantman said. ``A lot of people have brought  up
ideas about how to create more security and she's interested
in exploring them. She'd like to find out more.''

One group certain to fight  the  proposal  is  the  American
Civil  Liberties Union. A statement about ID cards posted on
the ACLU's national Web site  says:  ``A  national  ID  card
would  essentially  serve  as an internal passport. It would
create an easy new  tool  for  government  surveillance  and
could  be  used  to target critics of the government, as has
happened periodically throughout our nation's history.''

Mercury News researcher Leigh Poitinger contributed to  this
report.  Contact  Paul  Rogers  at  progers@sjmercury.com or
(408)    920-5045.     Contact     Elise     Ackerman     at
eackerman@sjmercury.com or (408) 271-3774.