Ready to be carded?

As security experts search for new ways to stop terrorist infiltrators without creating a police state, considerable attention is focusing on the idea of a foolproof identity card that would be issued on a voluntary basis.

In other words, you could agree to provide the government with personal data, such as a palm print or an iris scan. That information would then be encoded on a card, allowing you to bypass long lines of travelers that are now clogging airport ramps, border crossings, and other official checkpoints.

It's an interesting trade-off - giving up some privacy in return for special status - and for me, this is familiar territory. Roll the clock back to autumn of 1968, the beginning of my sophomore year in high school.

I read through the student handbook carefully, looking for exciting opportunities to pursue, and one possibility leapt out above all others.

If you maintained an outstanding record of academic performance and extracurricular activities, and proved yourself to be a thoroughly solid and trustworthy member of the student body during 10th and 11th grades, you might be granted the honor of receiving a Senior Privilege Card.

This award had many benefits, none of which I remember now - except for one: Holders of Senior Privilege Cards were allowed to write their own excuses for being absent from school.

It sounded like free admission to a more festive 12th-grade lifestyle.

I could picture myself relaxing at home on a rainy winter day, tossing a log on the fire, and sitting back with a steaming mug of Swiss Miss cocoa. Late in the afternoon, after a relaxing nap, I would reach for a pen and compose a note saying, "Jeff needed to take a day off for independent study." Or something like that.

An elitist system? Absolutely, and one that I was eager to work with.

At that point in my life, I fully accepted the traditional educational framework of achievements and rewards.

On TV, Bart Simpson has a classmate named Martin, who perfectly captures my enthusiastic compliance. In one of my favorite scenes, Martin raises his hand in class and pleads, "Oh, teacher, please call on me! I'm ever so smart!" My plans for enjoying all those privileges failed to materialize.

America in the late 1960s was roiled with unrest caused by the Vietnam War, and campuses around the country were challenging the establishment. By the time my senior year arrived, the entire system of student government had been dissolved.

So I never got to write my own excuses for missing school, but that fact didn't ruin my final year.

Now there's a chance to make up for the lost opportunity. Super-secure ID technology is here to stay. But how great is the need for me, or any American, to possess the 21st-century version of a Senior Privilege Card?

Nobody seems to know, and I really wish I didn't have to think about it again.

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