National Identity Cards: Fourth and Fifth Amendment Issues

64 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2012

See all articles by Daniel J. Steinbock

Daniel J. Steinbock

University of Toledo - College of Law

Date Written: June 30, 2004


In the past three years there have been serious calls for a national identity system whose centerpiece would be some form of national identity card. Such a system is seen mainly as a tool against terrorists, but also as a useful response to illegal immigration, identity theft, and electoral fraud. This article analyzes the Fourth and Fifth Amendment issues in two major features of any likely national identity system: requests or demands that individuals present their identification cards; and governmental collection, retention, and use of personal information to be used in identity checks. These issues are evaluated in several different contexts in which they might plausibly arise. The analysis takes account of Illinois v. Lidster and Hiibel v. Sixth Dist. Court of Nevada, two cases bearing on the issues that were decided by the Supreme Court during its 2003 term.

The article concludes that while the Fourth Amendment might bar certain practices, and block others depending on their purpose, it would be possible to have a constitutional national identity card system of a fairly comprehensive type. Moreover, the Fifth Amendment self-incrimination clause does not present a significant obstacle. The constitution may reduce the potential benefits of requiring a national identity card, but it does not prevent us from having and using one. Even where an identity system would not strictly run afoul of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, however, an analysis of the interests those provisions are designed to protect provides an insight into the price in privacy and liberty a national identity card would exact. The article also indicates how these effects might be mitigated somewhat in the system's design. In that sense, this article seeks to illuminate not only what kind of national identity system the U.S. lawfully could have, but how it might be devised, and, implicitly, whether we want to have one at all.

Keywords: Identity card, national identity system, identity check, checkpoint

JEL Classification: K14, K23, K42, I91, l93

Suggested Citation

Steinbock, Daniel J., National Identity Cards: Fourth and Fifth Amendment Issues (June 30, 2004). Florida Law Review Florida Law Review, Vol. 56, p. 697, 2004, University of Toledo Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN:

Daniel J. Steinbock (Contact Author)

University of Toledo - College of Law ( email )

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