Baring all on a badge In Howard: County workers are right to rebel against intrusive new identification cards.

November 06, 1995

BEING UP FRONT with the public doesn't mean you have to expose your vital, personal statistics to everyone. That should be clear to the Howard County government and county taxpayers.

There is no reason that a county employee must disclose his date of birth, height, weight and Social Security number on a photo ID card for all to see. The inclusion of all that data on ID cards county employees were made to wear was an insensitive overreaction by officials to security concerns following the Oklahoma City bombing. Moreover, displaying Social Security numbers for any and all is an invitation for those who would attempt to commit fraud.

We hope County Executive Charles Ecker is serious about reversing his insistence on listing personal statistics on these new photo cards that have been used since last month.

The former badges listed names and government office, without mug shot or vital stats. Anyone with county business could readily tell who the person was and where that employee worked. Of course, those badges could be stolen, misplaced, forgotten or simply not worn. But all that was needed was to require employees to wear them.

The new photo ID cards offer no improvement in that regard. Disgruntled county workers are blocking out their personal statistics, with official acquiescence. The photos are often outdated, as much as 20 years old.

Appearances change dramatically in much shorter time: hair color and style, beards and mustaches, eyeglasses and contacts. (To save money, Mr. Ecker says he won't demand new photos be used on the badges.)

Updated photo-IDs could be issued if employee entry or after-hours security are serious concerns. To thwart the use of fakes, the cards could include a serial number or encoded "swipe strip" that could be verified by security.

If the issuance of these cards is to better help visitors to government offices, a more cost effective solution is to emphasize to employees that they assist any strangers in their section. A name tag should be sufficient to establish that level of service; if the problem is that employees don't recognize each other, try more inter-departmental get-togethers.

In other words, county officials should stop badgering Howard employees over badges.

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