Heading off the Real ID

Posted on July 30, 2007

What a boon to illegal document forgers the "Real ID" would be. And what a burden on the states. And on the honest people who live in them. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who looks at issues from the perspective of a former governor, got it right when he said -- and we paraphrase -- "ay yi yi." Alexander stood on the Senate floor last week, assumed his stance as a former governor and reminded colleagues that the "Real ID" program is an unfunded mandate that will cost the states millions. The program, unless somebody stops it, will require all 245 million licensed drivers to renew their licenses by May 2013 by providing documented proof of legal citizenship, date of birth, Social Security eligibility, and street address in person at a state licensing facility. The process is set to begin next year. States would have to develop uniform standards for the issuance of driver's licenses. Information-sharing capabilities would be enhanced. Alexander and a group of colleagues plan to offer an amendment funding the process at $300 million, instead of the current $40 million. If that doesn't pass, Alexander favors shelving the program altogether, a much preferable outcome. The "Real ID" program was born out of a rational fear -- that the terrorist network that struck this country on Sept. 11, 2001, might try again. It has gained momentum with the rise of anti-immigration fervor. But its practical benefits are limited by the determination of criminals and terrorists to acquire the necessary technology to make their own documents or to acquire them legitimately. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the actual cost of complying with the law would be $20 billion over 10 years. Guess who picks up that tab. And if you thought the lines have been long at the passport office lately, wait until everyone has to show up at driver's license testing stations in person to renew. That's where clerks who have been showing signs of stress because of the duties that are assigned to them now will become immigration agents, making sure we're all who we say we are and have no nefarious intentions. What would amount to a national ID card insults American standards regarding the right to privacy and holds great potential for abuse. Historically, it has been the tool of totalitarian governments, not open societies. So how do we really feel about the "Real ID" act? Actually, we're not looking forward to it. But if it has to be, surely the federal government can appropriately fund what is clearly a national responsibility.