Identification Card Conspiracy Theories

Andrew Schulman
Chief Researcher, Workplace Surveillance Project, Privacy Foundation

April 6, 2002 (Revised April 26, 2002)

[Submitted for the forthcoming Encyclopedia of American Conspiracy Theories, edited by Peter Knight, to be published by ABC-Clio.]

Early American opposition to government tracking of the population was in part inspired by the biblical account of the "sin of David," who (as described in 1 Chronicles 21) Satan incited to conduct a census, and who God punished for thus "numbering" the people. Caesar's all-empire registration, which took Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem (Luke 2), similarly colored early American views toward government information collection for tax purposes.

George Washington wrote of the first (1790) US census that "our real numbers will exceed, greatly, the official returns of them; because the religious scruples of some, would not allow them to give their lists; the fears of others that it was intended as the foundation of a tax induced them to conceal or diminished theirs" (July 1791; quoted in Anderson and Feinberg, "History of the First American Census," Feb. 1999,

More specifically, though, mandatory or quasi-mandatory identification cards (ID) are a distinctly 20th century phenomenon, as is the belief that the issuance and checking of ID form part of a conspiracy.

The assignment of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) to workers in the 1930s produced concerns e.g. by the United Mineworkers of a potential "blacklist." That a government-assigned number was required to take a job was viewed by others as fulfillment of the biblical prophecy of the "Mark of the Beast" in Revelation 13: "no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name."

Much of the opposition to the SSN was fueled by opposition to FDR's New Deal itself; the opposition employed conspiratorial accusations largely as a rhetorical flourish. Just before the 1936 election, Republican presidential candidate Alf Landon asked if millions of Americans would now be fingerprinted and photographed and "opened for federal snooping." The Hearst newspapers asked, "Do you want a tag and a number in the name of false security?," and spread the rumor that all workers would be required to wear conscription-like "dog tags" displaying the beastly SSN (see Arthur Schlesinger, The Age of Roosevelt: The Politics of Upheaval, 1960, p. 636).

But even someone who can laugh at the fears and conspiracy theories that met the introduction of the SSN has to admit today that "the early critics were at least close to being correct in their predictions that the numbers would become all-purpose identifiers, despite the assurances of the supporters that it would not happen" (Max Skidmore, Social Security and Its Enemies, 1999, p. 48). The SSN has become an all-purpose identifier.

The US does not have a national ID card. The most-commonly checked government IDs are the drivers licenses issued by the fifty states; less than 20 percent of the population has a US passport. Nearly 7,000 different jurisdictions issue all manner of birth certificates, which are the "breeder documents" upon which other IDs are based.

The terrorist attack of Sept. 11 was quickly followed by calls for a secure national ID card. These calls were generally premised on the idea that the US already has a de facto national ID card, in the form of drivers licenses, and a national ID number, in the form of the SSN, and that the system simply had to be made less easily spoofed by foreign terrorists (little note was made of the US's rich supply of domestic terrorists). Opponents of the national ID plans somewhat similarly maintain that the US's scattered and semi-incoherent ID system has a large slippery-slope component, which amounts to an incipient de facto national ID.

Opponents of national ID often assert that, because totalitarian systems rely on ID cards (Nazi Germany's IBM-supplied ID system, the Soviet internal passport, and apartheid South Africa's pass system being key examples), therefore ID cards themselves represent a thin edge of the wedge, a foot in the door, of Big Brother, who could arrive piecemeal via technological improvements and small regulatory changes, as a kind of "death of a thousand cuts." Mainstream civil liberties and privacy advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and the Privacy Foundation do not see any conspiracy in this, though slippery-slope arguments can sometimes play the same role as conspiracy theory in organizing what would otherwise seem unrelated, disparate events. Sometimes privacy advocates will employ a faint whiff of conspiracy to simplify the presentation of what is really a kind of incremental/technological determinism.

A different group of ID opponents does see a literal conspiracy. A Web search for e.g. "national id conspiracy", "social security number new world order", or "id card gun confiscation" will yield thousands of web pages asserting that drivers licenses and SSNs have already come together to form a "papers, please" Big Brother scenario, in which federal agents, representing a "politically correct" dictatorship, can stop Americans at any time and demand to see their ID.

Members of "patriot" organizations, such as the Militia of Montana and the Posse Comitatus, have attempted to rescind or revoke their own driver's licenses or SSNs. For example, Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols had at one point attempted to back out of a $20,000 debt by attempting to repudiate his US citzenship; he destroyed his driver's license, passport, and voter registration card. Similar ID-revocation techniques have been used in attempts to avoid child-support payments, back taxes, gun registration, seatbelt laws, speed limits, and similar infringements on "sovereign" citizens.

These groups [which?] describe ID cards as part of a conspiracy to hook citizens into rejecting their "sovereign" status. Birth certificates turn children into "subjects" of Congress; the original birth certificate is forwarded to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) building in Europe. Even the ZIP postal code (and especially the newer nine-digit ZIP+4 code) is designed to form an "adhesion contract" to nulify sovereignty: "Though they claim its use is to speed the mail, it is a well planned and subtle trick" (

One advocate of "Common Law Courts" in 1995 said that, "With the unlawful passage of the 14th Amendment, a second class citizenship was established for blacks and those unsuspecting Citizens of Freeman character who unknowingly, unwillingly or unintentionally volunteered to give up their Constitutional protections for corporate State privileges (birth certificate, marriage license, driver's license, banking account #, social security #, etc....), moving them under the jurisdiction of Admiralty Law" (quoted in Abanes, American Militias, p. 33). These IDs are, in essence, the mark of 14th Amendment citizenship (which includes blacks), as opposed to sovereignty. [Need to explain that 14th amendment gave blacks citizenship, and therefore "14th amendment citizenship" is viewed as inferior by the white-supremacist militias?]

This idea of ID cards as anti-sovereign conspiracy is generally employed as part of a device for avoiding taxes or other financial burdens, and it is difficult to know how much independent life the conspiracy theory itself has. Tax avoidance using the sovereignty theory has been universally unsuccessful, so it would seem that this must represent ideology in its purest form. However, the idea that one can avoid taxes by, in part, destroying your Social Security card, and thereby opting-out of the 14th Amendment conspiracy, has often been put forward at seminars, at which attendees might pay several hundred dollars to acquire the appropriate paperwork, plus the ability to themselves hold similar seminars, in a kind of multilevel-marketing conspiracy theory. It may also be an act of pure desperation, or magical thinking, to tear up one's ID cards in hopes of keeping away the "gestapo" agents of the Internal Revenue Service.

In America, "liberty" is often a codeword for guns, and even fairly mainstream opponents of gun registration sometimes see ID cards as part of a much larger pattern, in which "fascist" government agencies such as BATF are targeting gun owners and the "politically incorrect." [Though with examples available such as Ruby Ridge and Waco, a routine traffic stop would seem insignificant.] Since gun-registration advocates frequently note that, "in a world in which we license drivers there's no reason" not to also license gun owners, it is not difficult to conversely see any ID, including the apparently humble drivers license, as a slippery slope to gun registration and anti-gun fascism. The Brady Bill requires that an ID such as a driver's license be shown, and checked against a federal database, as part of a handgun sale. According to Gun Owners of America, "the biggest step toward a complete ban on the private ownership of firearms is the registering of gun owners." [But showing ID not same as registration, if database record destroyed after. Get more appropriate quote.]

[There certainly are examples of registration being misused by government. The key example is the role of the US Census Bureau in aiding Japanese internment. See William Seltzer and Margo Anderson, After Pearl Harbor: The Proper Role of Population Data Systems in Time of War (2000), which discusses "the misuse of otherwise benign population data systems to assist in the perpetration of major human rights abuses." Do any gun-registration opponents point to this example? In any case, probably need a paragraph on census: fears that it's not really anonymous, that it will be linked to other databases, etc. To manage the undercount problem, Census Bureau in fact does link e.g. to Medicaid database; the initial census mailing is done on the basis of USPS ZIP, etc. mailing lists. See how easily this can be misinterpreted as government registration of persons -- especially easy given the Japanese internment misuse.]

[Need paragraph on States Rights? This is certainly one basis for opposition to national ID. On the other hand, this wouldn't explain opposition to drivers licenses, which are issued by the states. It would partially explain opposition to plans e.g. by AAMVA for nationwide coordination of drivers license databases; lack of such coordination allows a DWI in one state to get a new drivers license in another state.]

The key organizing principle for many ID card fears -- including those of patriots, gun advocates, and tax avoiders -- is the Mark of the Beast. Some organizations [which?] maintained that former Pres. Clinton's proposed national health card would feature an 18-digit ID number, comprising the 9-digit SSN plus the 9-digit ZIP+4 postal code; of course, 9+9=18=6+6+6, fulfilling Revelation 13:18. Others have pointed out that the law concerning the New Hire Database, with which every new employee must be registered for child-support (i.e., "deadbeat dad") purposes, amends a statute whose standard citation is 42 USC 666.

Apart from the very page numbers of the US Code unfolding according to biblical prophesy, whenever government rules require that ID be provided before the cardholder can take a job or receive a service, this helps enact the "no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark" rule. Pat Robertson's New World Order (1991) states that, with the technology of the Antichrist already in place, in a checkless/cashless society, it would not only be possible "to monitor and control all wealth," but it would also be possible "to freeze the accumulated wealth of any individual or any class." [Quotation is too indirect, find one that more clearly says these two things (monitoring/tracking, and actual controlling) are possible now.]

The widening use of ID numbers is said to be mandated by international organizations such as the UN and the European Community, as part of the New World Order predicted in Daniel 7:23 and Revelation 13:4-8. The Social Security Administration's "Enumeration at Birth" program, in which newborns are assigned SSNs, is part of a "global plan for enumeration," mandated by the one-world-government UN. Oklahoma City terrorist Timothy McVeigh, like many others, wrote of "over 300,000 names on Cray Supercomputers in Brussels, Belgium; of 'possible and suspected subversives and terrorists' in the U.S., all ranked in order of threat" (quoted in Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck, American Terrorist, 2002, p. 233). This apparently ineffectual computer, called "The Beast" by its designers, was reported as early as 1975 to belong to the Common Market. (Christian novelist Joe Musser has said that the Beast Computer of Belgium is an urban legend, based on his 1970 apocalyptic novel, Behold a Pale Horse.)

New identification technology is particularly worrisome, as shown by the early fears that UPC bar codes contained 666, or that the New World Order uses supermarket "loyalty" cards to track cardholder purchases. Today, "smart" cards, which can carry several megabytes of data, and sometimes contain their own microprocessors, are frequently described as the next step in bringing about one-world government tracking of all persons; the use of smart cards for PXes on military bases has been described as a pilot project to move the entire civilian population to a trackable cashless society. Biometrics such as facial recognition, and location tracking via GPS, are seen as part of the same plan of "softening up" the population for the Antichrist.

[The term "pilot project" has a particularly sinister sound, almost as if a test were worse than something fully implemented. The idea is that, instead of implementing a plan that everyone would immediately notice, the heat is instead turned up slowly. Thus, pilot projects can be seen as examples of "boiling the frog."]

The next step is implantable ID, such as the (claimed to be implantable) Digital Angel and the (actually implantable) Verichip products from Applied Digital Solutions. These products in part fulfill the design specification of Revelation 13:16 which speaks of "a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads." Timothy McVeigh joked of the army implanting a computer chip in his butt during the Gulf War; this tall tale is now taken seriously, and sometimes used to excuse McVeigh as a kind of "Manchurian candidate" acting under the control of the computer chip. High-tech ID systems are seen as systems not just for ID, but for mind control.

[Key text in US right now for end-time prophesy is the "Left Behind" series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. LaHaye was a cofounder with Rev. Jerry Falwell of the "Moral Majority"; the series has sold over 40 million copies. Vol. 8 is The Mark: The Beast Rules the World. E.g.: "The loyalty mark ... shall begin with these numbers, thus identifying the home region of every citizen. The subsequent numbers, embedded on a biochip inserted under the skin, will further identify the person to the point where every one shall be unique" (p. 85).]

[Need to mention names of some groups, e.g. SCAN (Sovereign Citizens Against Numbering); Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum. Perhaps also note that groups such as Eagle Forum will sometimes co-sign anti-ID position papers with groups such as ACLU and EFF. A rotten block: Schlafly and other right-wing ID opponents of course also oppose abortion rights and homosexual rights. The US Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights, and Bowers v. Hardwick on homosexual rights, are arguably the key texts on privacy in US law. So opponents of what we might call "core privacy," team up with privacy and civil-liberties advocates on what we might call a "petty privacy" issue.]

Prophetic belief can play a role similar to that of conspiracy theory. As noted in 1933 in a book revealing the Mark of the Beast in FDR's National Recovery Act, "Prophetic believers ... are informed concerning the demonism at work behind the scenes" (quoted in Robert Fuller, Naming the Antichrist, 1995, p. 153). Prophetic belief, like slippery-slope arguments and conspiracy theories, ties together what might otherwise be an unorganized confusion.

This also makes even frightening prophesies, like the Mark of the Beast, comforting in a way: better the devil (or New World Order) you know, than a series of unrelated incidents. This comforting aspect of the Mark of the Beast may be reflected in jokes at Christian web sites, such as that 00666 is the "Zip Code of the Beast," that $665.95 is the "retail price of the beast," and so on. Prophetic belief, like conspiracy theory, sometimes allows an ironic wink at the beastly foibles of contemporary life. [Partly because believers will be spared the awful events.]

For the "patriot" movement, to the extent that its ID card conspiracy theories are not purely a cover for what have been called "patriots-for-profit tax-fraud mills," the notion that white American males live in an anti-gun fascist police state (run by "PC" liberals and one-world-government organizations), where your ID can be demanded at any time for something like speeding or drunk driving, might be seen as a nervous projection onto themselves of the lack of privacy and liberty that actually is experienced by other parts of the population.


Abanes, Richard. 1996. American Militias: Rebellion, Racism, and Religion. Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press.

Boyer, Paul. 1992. When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture. Cambridge MA: Harvard U. Press.

Cohen, Patricia Cline. 1982. A Calculating People: The Spread of Numeracy in Early America. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press.

Schulman, Andrew. 2002. "The US/Mexico Border Crossing Card (BCC): A Case Study in Biometric, Machine-Readable ID,"

Smith, Robert Ellis. 2000. Ben Franklin's Web Site: Privacy and Curiosity from Plymouth Rock to the Internet. Providence RI: Privacy Journal.

Stern, Kenneth S. 1996. A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate. Norman OK: U. of Oklahoma Press.

Walton, Douglas. 1992. Slippery Slope Arguments. Oxford: Oxford U. Press.

See Also

Income tax; Internal Revenue Service; Michigan militia; Militias; Mind control; "new world order"; "one world government"; Posse Comitatus; United Nations; Universal price codes

[Will encyclopedia have an entry for Census?]

Sample Texts

The Christian Freedom Page [author is James Hardin, founder, Republic USA?]

MARK OF THE BEAST -- 42 USC Sec. 666

......and the name of the Beast is 666. For those of you who said 30-40 years ago that the Social Security Number would be the Mark of the Beast, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you can say you were right. The bad news is that almost everyone in this Nation founded on Christian principles has the Mark. Americans can not get a job, get a drivers license, have a bank account, get a loan, vote, or even file a tax return with out the Mark of the Beast. Big Brother (The Devil?) knows what you make, what you have, and where to find you. Next will come fingerprinting and electronic banking. You will not even be able to purchase food or medicine for yourself or your family without the Mark of the Beast. Your children will be (most are now) raised and schooled by the Beast. Now, with "hate crimes", "thought police", and federal monitors in the schools to report little "children who pray" to the federal court, I challenge you to name a single area of your physical life not controlled by the government. The technology exists to put your "life information" on a chip (similar to the magnetic strip on a credit card) and to implant the chip under the skin. There is already talk in Washington of using implants in the U.S. military for "identification purposes". Will the rest of America be next?

Don't believe it? The above are just a few areas where The Mark of the Beast already controls your life. The Constitution of America no longer exists, federal courts operate under international law ( not Constitutional law), the bill of rights are gone, the states have no rights, YOU HAVE NO RIGHTS! "Freedom" web sites such as this one are now labeled "hate talk" and may not exist much longer. Since we hate tyranny, we are considered dangerous by the government. Also, through Non Government Organizations (NGO's) and environmentalist groups supported by The Beast, the lifestyle of your family will forever change.

T. Collins, "White Paper on State Citizenship," Oct. 4, 1994

[This has been reprinted at many web sites, which can be found with a Google search for "sheppard towner imf".]

You may also find it disturbing to know how an administrative procedure can remove your children from you. In 1921 Congress passed the Sheppard --Towner Maternity Act that created the United States birth "registration" area (see Public Law 97, 67th Congress, Session 1, Chapter 135, 1921.) That act allows you to register your children when they are born. If you do so, you will get a copy of the birth certificate. By registering your children, which is voluntary, they become Federal Children. This does several things: Your children become subjects of Congress (they lose their state citizenship). A copy of the birth certificate is sent to the Department of Vital Statistics in the state in which they were born. The original birth certificate is sent to the Department of Commerce in the District of Columbia. It then gets forwarded to an International Monetary Fund IMF building in Europe. Your child's future labor and properties are put up as collateral for the public debt.

[This next one nicely captures the screwy legalese of the tax-protest movement, but is it just too hard to follow?]

National Institute for Taxation Education (NITE), "Social Security Asseveration of Coercion," Nov. 17, 2000

I am under coercion by custom and color of law to maintain and possess a Social Security Number as I was never given an informed option as to whether or not I wanted to waive my rights to the full fruits of my labor as a U.S. Citizen, and choose to be treated as an alien subject to the Social Security Act, when the application for a social security number to be assigned to me was submitted.

... I and other U.S. Citizens have no hope of having our rights as U.S. Citizens considered under the letter of the laws enacted by the U.S. Congress, in pursuance of the Constitution of the United States, until the time that the People's Congress either takes up the cause of the rights of U.S. Citizens to be free and not treated as aliens, or the Executive Branch issues information releases regarding the veracity of the claims of U.S. Citizens not being statutorily subject to the Social Security Act, and are not to be treated as aliens, subject to that act, nor the number provision requirement of the W4 Form so plainly imposed only upon aliens, therefore making U.S. Citizens, living and working in the Fifty States, economically FREE.

Until then, all of those who are legally within this Nation (assigned social security numbers) will be treated as criminals, tracked and monitored by computers and programs, and as aliens subject to taxes created by international treaty, or imposed by statute upon same in keeping with the original taxation and government funding scheme of the U.S. Constitution.