How illegal is it to leave your identity behind in the US? Or in other countries?

Say, for whatever reason, I was so tired of my life that I decided to abandon my identity entirely and start fresh elsewhere-- buy a bus ticket or plane ticket to some other city, with a new name and no ID, and start looking for work as a day laborer or something.

How illegal would that be, and what would the penalty be? If I were to march into the nearest Homeland Security office and announce: “Hello all! I would like to establish a new official identity, and I refuse to tell you anything about my past or whether I am even a citizen of this country.” What would they do? Would I go to jail, and if so for how long? I presume they would have to assign me some form of official ID just to keep track of me; what form would that take?

Would it be at all easier to establish a fresh identity abroad, or more difficult? I expect there are still places on Earth where a person has little need for formal ID, but I mistrust my ability to blend into those places.

I guess if you told lies to obtain a Social Security number, without which you cannot legally work, then, yes…

Follow-up: It occurs to me that I may not have phrased this question carefully enough to avoid the “no discussion of illegal activity” rule in GD, and I wish to clarify that this is not the case. I am not planning to abandon my identity, as trivial a loss as that might seem to some. I am just wondering what the consequences would be.

No lies or deception would be involved, just a new name and refusal to provide information about one’s past history.

It would be legal with out identy. But it would mean no SS card, so if you do day work you would be breaking the law. Filing income taxes would be illegal. No driver Licence. If anything were to happen in a offical event and you were required to give you name.

so if you had enough cash you could live with an assumed name.

First you have to realize that an “identity” is nothing more than a construction, whether it be social, legal, or otherwise. Therefore, in most cases, it is very easy to change and alter it. In most cases your identity only exists in an active negotiation with another entity. (It becomes harder to change your identity when it is nothing more than an entry in an electronic database somewhere. Nearly all of us here have an identity like this; an identity which is constructed based on a number of digital interactions, none of which you are aware are being stored or even being made in a demographic. Very interesting field of research, actually.)

For the OP, I guess you are just trying to leave behind the identity you’ve constructed from your birth until today. I do not see why that would be illegal. Where you encounter a problem is in trying to legally create your new identity. Creating a new social identity would be easy enough: move to a new place, dress, act, and talk according to how you wish your new identity to be perceived and presto, you have a new social identity. However, if you wish to create a new legally recognized identity, you’ll probably have to commit fraud at some level (either deliberately or just through simply not offering certain information).

Regardless, many people have changed their legal and social identities over time. See chapter six in Sorting Things Out for a discussion of how individuals managed to “pass” as a different racial category during Apartheid. The most obvious method was: “first obtain employment in a whites-only occupation that is not too fussy about identity cards… move to a mixed neighborhood, and quietly join the local white associations… Over time, this establishes a track record that can be used as leverage for reclassification [to a new identity] based on general acceptance and repute” (Bowker and Star, 1999, p. 216).

The same sort of method would need to be used in a Western country. You would have to build up personal relationships that believed your “presented” identity is actually your true identity. Succeed in doing that and you have a newly constructed “social” identity. Now, with a firmly established social identity you would slowly proceed to constitute a new “legal” identity. Could you do it without ever committing fraud, on at least at some level, probably not. Could you do it? Definitely, people are actively doing it everyday. Is it illegal? Depends on what you consider your identity to be. Is your identity that which others, whether social or institutional, assign to you? Or is your identity you, and only you?

A few weeks ago, I signed a contract online and ordered three cellphones, all under my name and one plan. They required that I call them, and then to verify my identity, they asked me a few questions. No, “what’s your mother’s maiden name”, kind of stuff. This was, “What color are your eyes?” “What’s your husband’s birthday?” and “Which of the following streets have you ever lived on?” followed by two streets local to where I grew up, and one street that I lived on for 1 year 9 years ago. I had to guess that one, to be honest, but I got it right.

Honestly, after that, I went ahead and got an iPass. Big Brother already knows where I am *and *what color my eyes are. Fuck it.

I just moved and reported that I had done so to the DMV of my new location. Figuring out how to do so was both trivial and obnoxious, but one practical result is that I have no photo ID at present–my old driver’s license was taken, and my new one with picture will be sent in the mail in a couple of weeks.

Then I went to the bank to cash a check(a check I wrote on an account at that bank)–and they wanted to see my ID, which was in the car. She asked me my social, and my mother’s maiden name, and gave me the cash, with sort of an apology, which amused me. I mean, yes, on the one hand, it was my cash she gave me, fewer hoops are better, but on the other hand, if a theif had my checkbook, I’d rather the thief didn’t get all my ready “cash”.

It’s a lot harder now to change your life. Society–or rather, financial institutions–won’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt now. Computerization of data makes it easy for them to sort out people, and classify some people as undesirable, or criminal, for wanting to change their identity. If you try to change your identity completely, they’ll either assume you don’t exist (refusing you a job, a place to live in, and other things), or insist that you provide more background. It’s all in the computers, and they’re checking it.

You think your life is private? How 1980s of you!

I think this is much more the exception than the rule.

ISTM that you could do it without too much trouble, if all you want to do is take on a new personal identity in your new community, and not try to create a new financial identity.

Go to court and officially change your name, inform the Social Security Administration (and any creditors, although it would probably be best to close all existing accounts) of the change, and move. In your new location you can establish yourself under the new name, get a job using your (unchanged) SSN, and set up new bank accounts with it and the new name. What you choose to tell anyone about your past is up to you.

Nothing illegal. Not very difficult.

Now, I don’t suppose this would prevent anyone from finding out about your past if they really wanted to. But as long as you aren’t leaving behind anyone who is motivated to try to find you, and don’t do anything to arouse suspicion in the new place, you should get by all right.

I may have given the wrong impression; I’m not really questioning whether it’s possible to “go underground,” as I believe the expression is. The goal is not to conceal my action from the authorities, or to avoid the consequences of some other crime.

Consider it a sort of performance art protest: I move to the opposite coast, walk into Homeland Security and demand a new ID. They don’t give me one, so I refuse to leave. Sooner or later they’ll have to arrest me for vagrancy or something (so I will have broken that law at that point, I guess). But I still refuse to identify myself. Say that I have no previous police record, no fingerprints on file, etc.

(This may not really be the case-- can they pull up dental records these days? Facial identification software? – but for the purposes of my question, assume that it turns out I’m unidentifiable due to my good teeth and general clean living).

If they cannot identify me, they will eventually have to oblige me with some new form of official identity for their own convenience. What would that be? They wouldn’t assume I’m a citizen, I don’t think; so what category would I fall under? Undesirable alien? Aside from being charged with vagrancy, how much trouble would I be in just for being an ass and not identifying myself? And after I served that time, what then? Would I still remain “John Doe, no SSN?” Or would the system eventually cave in and assign me some other designation, with which I could be legally employed and a productive member of society from that point on?

Maybe this question is too unrealistic for a factual answer. I’m just wondering how today’s society would deal with a Kaspar Hauser-type individual-- amnesiac and unidentifiable. Could they even be accomodated any more, or would there literally be no place for them?

This is the really disturbing part of these electronic databases. Where’d they get this information from? Even worse is, what if they get it wrong? How do you prove your “identity” when their database is telling them you are misrepresenting yourself?! Or how about when these databases are affecting you, but you don’t even know it?!

First off, please fight my ignorance, but does Homeland Security issue “ID” cards to US citizens?

Second, yes, sorry, nobody has answered your question. You are asking what the procedural way of dealing with a person who refusing to identify themselves is. A general answer would probably be found with somebody who has law enforcement experience. Police deal with these “refusal to identify myself” type occurrences on a daily basis. Though it is typically easy enough to find an identification for somebody, what about the percentage of people who can’t be properly identified? How do the police solve that everyday?

As an aside, the only problem with the OP’s scenario is: even if Homeland Security finally acquiescences and gives you a new “identity”, they’d also make a note in your record that this is your “second” identity. Therefore, you would always be suspect in their eyes.

You would encounter similar problems in Australia to the US ones already listed.

There is a huge trail of electrons that the average citizen leaves behind himself just going about daily business, and that trail is increasingly networked. Say, a doctor gives you a medical certificate for a few days off when you’re not really sick, and you leave the country, then the Medicare and immigration records can be cross-checked, getting the doctor in hot water. That sort of thing.

We have a tax file number (a bit like America’s SSN), and although it’s use is legislated to be kept to a minimum (regarding who can ask for it), it’s hard to avoid completely. It’s legal not to quote it to banks, employers, etc, but if you do, you’ll be taxed at the absolute highest rate.

Also, there are legal forms and documents where you must list not only your name, but any other names or aliases you have ever gone by.
On the other hand, if the state decides it wants you to change your identity, then they do an expert job of it. I have relatives who were in the police force (both husband and wife are coppers), and were caught up in a huge, ugly corrupt drug scandal whereby one of them was approached to be part of it, declined, and reported it. They were in some danger then, and the police force gave them the option of paying for them to move interstate, giving them complete new identities and histories, and generally making them disappear. For the record, they declined this offer, and now their house looks like Fort Knox (the police paid for the high tech security systems).

IANAL, but first, Homeland Security doesn’t issue identification to U.S. Citizens. We don’t have no stinking national ID in this country! We are free Americans! We do, however, have licenses to drive a motor vehicle which, for no particular reason, happen to also serve as necessary ID for many functions unrelated to driving a car, but it’s not a a national ID card!

That being said, I am assuming your OP question is asking what would happen if you just tossed everything and showed up 3,000 miles away with not a stitch of paperwork?

Well, you had better have a boatload of cash on you. You couldn’t open a bank account without an SSN, or get any type of legal employment. You mentioned being a day laborer, but if we are talking about a legal day laborer, then that is a no-go.

You couldn’t drive, but you could own a car. But if you employed a driver, then you would need to register as an employer and need your SSN.

I suppose if you were very independently wealthy, and wanted to live a unabomber-style existence, then you could legally do it with no ID and no SSN in the United States…