What is with the US obsession with showing ID cards?

One cultural thing I noticed after leaving the USA is the obsession among law enforcement and the private sector for asking for ID all the damn time, seriously it is crazy how common it is in the USA. I used to get quite a kick out of saying I don’t carry ID, which can be dangerous and lead to arrest. Being a pedestrian in the USA is begging for a cop to pull over and ask you for ID, a lot of police incorrectly believe it is illegal not to have and carry ID(I have been told that by police point blank).

Cops in the USA are almost comical in their ID requests, they will literally ask random people on the street not suspected or accused of any crime for ID. If you call the police to report anything the officer will ask for your ID when they come out, if you have some guests over they will ask everyone for it. If they pull over a car for speeding they ask all passengers for ID. ID ID ID ID ID ID.

In the USA you are asked for ID in retail stores for buying random things, Walmart for example there are about a million items they sell that trigger the ID request. Weed killer, batteries, tools, knife sets, the list is enormous and most cashiers ignore it. Stores ask you to produce ID for legally age restricted items no matter how old you are, an 80 year old gets carded. I had a ton of hassles using a US passport as my ID, even being told only state ID is valid(the USA is not a state you heard it here!).

You cannot buy a domestic bus ticket or airline ticket without showing ID, for what possible reason?

All this ID showing solves nothing, the only place it makes even a speck of sense is legally age restricted items and then only for those could conceivably be underage.

Is this specifically a U.S. obsession?

It is not a US obsession. It is expected in most of the developed world that one be able to provide identification.

The only time I get ID’d on a regular basis is when I buy cigarettes. I rarely buy alcohol, but I get ID’d for that, too. I’ve never been stopped by the police as a pedestrian, never known anyone else who was, and really can’t fathom it happening unless someone was causing trouble (well, *or *unless you’re non-white and the police are dickheads).

I can’t speak of EVERY country obviously, but in the countries I visited or lived in the US is only one where it is(I’m from the US).

I live in Trinidad and right now if I wanted to I could:

Take a bus anywhere in the country and not show ID.

Take a domestic flight and not show ID.

Cops don’t ask random people to produce ID, they ask the driver in a traffic stop for his drivers license and that is that. Even people being hassled patted down by the cops aren’t asked for ID. I assume if you are arrested and charged the issue will come up, and not to say the cops don’t hassle people but not over ID.

Retailers don’t have capricious lists of things to ask ID for if the law doesn’t require it due to age, for the things the law does require ID due to age they don’t ask granny for it.
In the USA I went to visit my father in the hospital and the guard who was an off duty cop asks for ID, I said I didn’t have any and he went into the usual spiel about how that is illegal etc. A woman behind me proudly said she had one, like it was an accomplishment.:stuck_out_tongue:

I recently took a Greyhound bus from Phoenix to Tucson (and back) and never had to show ID.

My ID is my driver’s license so… no difference here, either.


This is a thread from this board that sounds familiar to the experiences I’m used to, along with the officer blatantly telling lies.

The only time I’ve been asked for ID for the last however-many-years is when I purchased Sudafed for my wife. During that time, I’ve purchased weed killer, batteries, tools, and knives, all without ID.

This part I agree with, but it’s the only part of your OP which matches my experiences in the US. This part disheartens me, but yes, I’ve gone to police officers (that is, I’ve approached them when they’re not obviously busy, I’m not giving them a hard time during a time they’ve stopped me) and asked them if there’s a law or requirement that I carry ID and produce it when asked and over 50% have said yes. In my state, there isn’t any such law. But, as I’ve told my kids, that’s an argument to have with a judge, not a cop. In at least some places, cops are specifically selected not to be too bright.

Stores which card “granny” for age related items are not doing so out of a legal requirement, but store policy. They have to pay huge fines if they’re found to be selling cigarettes or liquor to kids. It’s easy to card a 12 year old, and easy not to card a 40 year old, but there’s a landmine of customer service issues and potential errors in between. It’s far safer for the person who has to pay the fine to order their employee to card everyone, full stop. Then you don’t have to argue with the 23 year old guy who looks like a could be 17. You don’t offend the old looking 28 year old woman by NOT asking her for ID when she heard you ask the young-looking 34 year old in front of her. You don’t miss the old-looking 17 year old and get a huge fine because he’s working a sting operation with the cops.

I’m white and was taking my nightly walk in the downtown district where I live, and some cops on bicycles stopped and briefly questioned me. They said there had been some break-ins recently, and asked what I was doing. They did ask for ID, and when I said I had none with me, they asked me where I lived.

There is no obsession. I can easily go 1-2 hours without showing my ID.

I’ve never been asked for identification except when I’m entering a building that requires it. And in that case, it’s security, not police, who are asking for it.

But what does that accomplish? Are they checking against an approved list of visitors, or just checking ID as an obsession?

You’re kidding, right? Individual security guards are checking identification merely as an obsession and not because they’re required to?

Everyone needs a hobby.

I know they are required to, the question is again WHY? Yes of course they are doing it at management’s behest, why does management think it is needed?

I didn’t mean as an obsession that guard has, I mean as my OP a cultural obsession for asking for ID when it accomplishes nothing.

If I recall correctly, in Michigan it actually is a legal requirement that you card everyone for alcohol.

Oh, right, hadn’t thought about that one.

In my case, I get asked for ID at “secured” buildings, mostly in terrible neighborhoods where people are shot pretty regularly. In most of them, the guard checks my ID against the name I write in the log. In a few of them, the guard takes my ID, writes my name down on the log and hands the ID back to me. In a couple, the guard keeps my ID or a copy of my ID, filing it in a little Rolodex according to the resident (patient, for me) I’m going to see.

In all these cases, it’s for…security. So that if someone in or around the building is shot*, they can give the log to the police and the police have a list of people to interview to see if they saw/did something.

The added bonus is that, in the event I’m the one shot, they can quickly and easily identify my body and notify my next of kin.

*Or raped or mugged or kidnapped or…

Let’s see, my recent instances of being asked to show ID ***as ID *** as opposed to for Driver’s License-related purposes while stateside have been…

  • Airport checkpoints, every time.
  • Checking in at Hotels, every time.
  • We-card-everyone businesses as mentioned above
  • Opening a table-bottle-service bar tab on credit card; three times in four years

Beyond that I have known being in a major US city for two weeks and never be asked for ID in the course of other everyday activity.

Or if there is any sort of incident, investigation or lawsuit that will require inquiring as to whether a particular person was in the building at a particular time.
The US has a somewhat paradoxical situation vis-a-vis ID - yes, it seems like everyone and his brother feels you *should *have some, but yet, at the same time, any notion of actually creating one universal ID document issued to all is viewed as a very, very, very bad proposition.

Thats kinda odd, hell why not make everyone entering and leaving a mall show ID so you’d have a list of suspects for crimes that occur within? It seems like a creeping way to make it normal for there to be a record of who is where at all times, which isn’t really needed anyway as if there was a shooting the police would investigate anyway. Making police investigations moderately easier is an odd rationalization for a pretty time consuming and annoying activity.

*None of this is a dig at you personally WhyNot.