'Real ID' threatens everyone's privacy

Posted on March 10, 2007

"We are, after all, for the first time in the history of a liberty-loving nation, creating a national identification card … with all the ramifications of that. … Real ID was stuffed into the supplemental appropriations bill for Hurricane Katrina and the troops in Iraq, so of course, we had to vote for the bill, but we had no chance to amend it — no debate, no hearing, and no consideration of other alternatives, And now we impose on the states an $11 billion unfunded mandate. … I would say we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't stop and think about what we've done." Sen. Lamar Alexander's recent comments about the Real ID Act echo the widespread bipartisan resistance to this new law. In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act, a law that proposed a sea change in how states issue driver's licenses. In essence, the law would federalize all state departments of motor vehicles and turn our driver's licenses into national identity cards. The burdens of compliance are onerous and guarantee longer lines, higher fees and huge bureaucratic and financial nightmares for state government. However, the real nightmare of Real ID is the law's assault on our privacy rights. The law mandates a central, interlinked database containing a wealth of personal information, including name, address, date of birth, biometric information and an assigned identification number. Over time, the database will inevitably become the repository for more and more of citizens' personal data and will be used for an ever-wider set of purposes, moving us closer to a surveillance society. Vulnerable to thieves Linking the Real ID information to a central database makes our private information vulnerable to identity thieves. Real ID requires the DMV to store scanned copies of all documents presented as part of the application process. A single break in the security of this system at any of the thousands of DMV offices across the country could potentially compromise the personal information and documents of millions of Americans. It's not often that the ACLU agrees with Sen. Alexander, but he got it right when he said that the two-year delay could be used to re-examine Real ID, explaining "It's not insignificant that there are privacy concerns. Big Brother government is a big problem." In addition, Real ID remains an unfunded federal mandate. The federal government estimates the cost of implementing Real ID at over $11 billion. Yet the government has pledged only $130 million toward the states to comply with that effort. Concerns about privacy, security, cost and implementation are fueling a growing national revolt against Real ID. In January, Maine became the first state to pass a resolution rejecting participation in the Real ID scheme. Last Thursday, Idaho passed a resolution to opt out of Real ID. Real ID is built on the false premise that this attack on privacy and security will make our nation more secure. But the truth is that Real ID does little to make us safer. Tennesseans must join the rebellion now and call on their elected officials to end the real nightmare that is Real ID.