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License Numbers

July 18, 1986

I am disturbed by letters from well-meaning but unthinking people such as Nancy McHenry (Letters, June 25) demanding that Social Security numbers be used for a national driver's license registry and for other identification purposes. This is a dangerous road to tread.

When Social Security numbers were first issued in the '30s, they were violently opposed by conservatives, who called them "dog licenses" and other opprobrious names. The U.S. government gave its solemn pledge that those numbers would never be used for any purpose other than record keeping for the Social Security program. People who had reason to believe their numbers were being used for blacklisting or other discrimination had only to so state in order to get a new number.

This solemn pledge by our government has been violated repeatedly, with Social Security numbers now being used for police records, passports, bank deposits, credit applications and a host of other purposes. What started out as an innocent bookkeeping device is well on its way to becoming an internal passport such as is used in dictatorships around the world. The next step would be to require a permit to move from one town to another, to change jobs, to buy property--in fact, to do any of the things that are the privilege of the free world and the envy of the people living under dictatorships.

It is tempting to try to simplify some aspects of law enforcement and record keeping, but we should be aware that such incremental changes in a simple bookkeeping device can lead imperceptibly to the very type of existence we abhor.

MARTIN VANDERVEEN

Los Angeles

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