Is the Real ID Act a Good Idea?
When I first heard about this innocuous sounding piece of legislation, I knew I felt uncomfortable with it. Looking into the issue however, proved a bit complicated. So I contacted one of my favorite legal eagles, Richard Cleary. In addition to his legal work, Rich is also a district representative to the state of Maine legislature, which led the charge against the Real ID Act at the national level. He’s the most informed person I’ve run into regarding this issue, and wrote a detailed piece on the subject you may want to check out. In the meantime, Rich has agreed to an informational interview. . .
1. You’ve given us the historical timeline of the issue, provided a full text of the actual act, and given us an informational link to a portal for those wanting to research the issue in full. For the average reader on the go however, what do you see as the nuts and bolts problem issues of The Real ID Act?
- Well, for starters REAL ID was attached to the “Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005”, avoiding full public debate, and making it politically perilous to oppose.
- In essence, the REAL ID Act attempts to turn the 50 state driver's licenses into a de facto national identification card.
- Having been rushed through Congress, REAL ID is an unfunded and poorly crafted mandate. It is in effect, science fiction, based on secure documentation technology and verification systems that do not exist. The act does not improve security, but it does threaten citizen privacy by requiring a birth certificate and social security card prior to issue. And the cost? The dollar totals for the state of Maine alone would reach roughly $185 million over a five year period.
- Also, the REAL ID Act is laden with legal presence requirements (documentation to show your actual presence in the state such as a birth certificate or passport). Yes, this is a circular argument.
- Pressure from federal authorities upon states to impose legal presence requirements amounts to a back door effort to force compliance with the suggested provisions of REAL ID.
2. How many states have now joined in the dissent, and what impact does all this have at the national level?
- Well, folks at the national level are certainly starting to pay attention. The Maine Legislature, with overwhelming bipartisan support, saw the failings of this dangerous act and took the extraordinary, and commendable, step of rebuking the act by passing a Joint Resolution calling on Congress to repeal the act and by passing a state law preventing the Secretary of State amending “the procedures for applying for a driver's license or non-driver identification card … in a manner designed to conform to the federal REAL ID Act of 2005.” Seventeen State Legislatures have followed Maine’s lead enacting anti REAL ID legislation, 11 others have passed such legislation through one legislative chamber and another 11 others have introduced some form of anti-REAL ID legislation. For further reference on this strand of the issue, you may want to check out the ACLU web site, realnightmare.org.
3. Most are already aware, but for those who aren't, what impact can requiring the personal documents in question (birth certificate, social security card) have on a consumer’s life and privacy? Consider this your "open mic" question and feel free to sound off.
- With the Real ID Act, vital confidential records are to be placed in a federal database where hackers and others including federal employees can access and use to steal credit information. They can obtain fraudulent credit in your name and basically ruin your ability to borrow. The privacy issue is also troubling. We have a country founded on freedom -- freedom of movement which could be restricted with a national ID card, requiring "papers" in order to travel, purchase necessities, or obtain medical treatment. Recent revised regulations by the Department of Homeland Security (released May 2007) are troubling in this very respect. The last lines of the regulations state, in essence, DHS declares that states are free not to participate in the Real ID system if they choose--but any identification card issued by a state that does not meet Real ID criteria is to be clearly labeled as such, to include "bold lettering" or a "unique design" similar to how many states design driver's licenses for those under 21 years of age. In its own documents, the department has proposed branding citizens not possessing a Real ID card in a manner that lets all who see their official state-issued identification know that they're "different," and perhaps potentially dangerous, according to standards established by the federal government. They would become stigmatized, branded, marked, ostracized, segregated. All in the name of protecting the homeland.
4. Can you recommend any links of interest?
- The Electronic Privacy Information Center's page provides some decent information, as does this page from the National Congress of State Legislatures. For a run down on Homeland Security's proposed guidelines, you may want to check out this link.
5. You’ve mentioned to me that this issue will be coming to the forefront again in 2008. What should people be on the lookout for, and how can individuals get involved if they want to?
- Citizens are able to contact their state and federal reps to join in or express opposition as well as their wishes to have this act repealed. In addition, each individual state can obtain an extension from DHS, but will NEED to file a request by February 1, 2008. States were and are encouraged to inform DHS of their intention to request an extension as soon as October 1, 2007. The Department of Homeland Security can grant an extension through December 31, 2009. A State that is complying with the REAL ID Act must begin issuing REAL ID-compliant licenses and identification cards no later than May 11, 2008. However, States that have been granted an extension will be required to issue compliant licenses and identification cards no later than January 1, 2010. All licenses and identification cards held by individuals from a State must be compliant by May 10, 2013.
While I have personal issues with how certain entities are approaching the streamlining of a “Real ID”, I by no means am trying to tell Wise Bread readers what to think (Although I certainly know how I feel!). It’s up to the individual to form their own opinion. Still, I consider this an important consumer affairs issue, and wanted to provide you with a detailed set of resources to research and tackle the issue on your own. Richard’s background knowledge was pivotal to this piece. Thanks again, Rich!