San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors recently enacted a piece of legislation that would provide ID cards to all residents of the city – a program designed to make San Francisco residents that are in the “social margins” (namely the homeless and immigrant populations) receive city services and help them gain bank accounts.

The legislation was developed in response to an ever-increasing robbery rate in San Francisco, a rate which officials say puts populations like immigrants and the homeless at risk because they are, for the most part, do not have access to basic services like banks – and can be hit hard if robbed. Under the new law, businesses in San Francisco that hold city contracts would be required to accept the new ID card as legitimate identification, businesses like banks and credit unions that could help marginalized citizens gain services and help prevent potentially devastating robberies.
This new legislation promises to help many San Francisco citizens protect their assets, but has some pitfalls that could wreak havoc with San Francisco banks and public institutions. It’s not clear what the policy for getting one of these municipal ID cards would be, and how the city would ensure that identity thieves or criminals could not make multiple cards or false identities. One way to skirt this problem would be to use biometric information on the ID cards – like fingerprints. Adding a fingerprint and a photo onto an ID card, and storing fingerprints in a database, could help prevent multiple issuances of these cards and keep the threats of identity theft and fraud at bay.
San Francisco is the second city in the United States to adopt an optional municipal ID card program; New Haven, CT also offers a similar program, but San Francisco’s program is certainly the largest and will be a precedent for cities that develop municipal ID card programs in the future.