The REAL ID Act of 2005, which mandates that states conform their driver’s licenses and identification cards to a common standard defined by the Department of Homeland Security and that states put personal information into a central database, is being sold as a secure document which will protect us all from terrorism, illegal immigration and identity theft.
But it will do no such thing.
Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff defended Real ID on Thursday, saying that the initiative would help prevent identity theft and illegal immigration and promote privacy.
“I think this is an example where security and privacy go hand-in-hand,” he said Thursday. “It is a win-win for both if we are disciplined and intelligent about the way we analyze the risks.”
First, there’s illegal immigration and identity theft. Someone gets hold of your personal information and gets a job, or a bank account, or a credit card, with your name and Social Security number.
“For every single person whose identity was stolen by someone who forged their name and their Social Security number on a driver’s license, or on an identification document, ask that person, do you feel your privacy is better protected if someone can walk around with phony documents, with your name and your number?” he said. “Or is your privacy better protected if you have the confidence that the identification relied upon is, in fact, secure and reliable, and uniquely tied to a single individual?”
But REAL ID won’t stop phony documents. It may make them harder to get, but there are plenty of corrupt DMV employees ready and willing to provide real identification to anyone who pays a hefty enough bribe. Indeed, it won’t stop most types of identity theft at all, since the ID itself isn’t required, only the information.
And it won’t stop illegal immigration. I suspect Chertoff knows this. He’s previously admitted that he knows why people come here. “We all know that the primary economic engine that draws in illegal migration is work,” he said. But one can make up a phony name and number on the spot and work. Or a person can work under the table. The REAL ID won’t stop any of this.
Finally, there’s terrorism. The 9/11 Commission recommended that “Secure identification should begin in the United States. The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as drivers licenses.”
The justification for this? “At many entry points to vulnerable facilities, including gates for boarding aircraft, sources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists.”
REAL ID does precious little to help authorities determine who might or might not be a threat. The 9/11 hijackers, the 9/11 Commission was forced to admit, just walked right into local DMV offices and got driver’s licenses in their own names! There’s no reason to think future terrorists could not also do this under REAL ID.
So what exactly is the point to REAL ID? Who is being made secure, and why does Chertoff think it’s a “win-win” for privacy?
As we now know, the central databases required by REAL ID won’t be maintained by the federal government, but by a private company. This lets the federal government bypass Privacy Act protections when it wants access to that data. It also reduces the protection you have against bad information getting into the database.
It would have been easy enough for the government to track you with the data in a government database, but with it in a commercial database, it’s even easier. “Is this somehow an invasion of privacy?” Chertoff asks. No reasonable person could possibly answer “no.”
Then there’s the money. REAL ID is an $11 billion unfunded mandate that states must comply with or risk losing federal highway funding. States can’t absorb all the costs associated with compliance, so REAL ID compliant driver’s license costs could exceed $100 each.
It’s also worth mentioning that many people consider REAL ID to be the “Mark of the Beast,” without which people won’t be able to participate in ordinary commerce, and with which people won’t be allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Without a REAL ID compliant identification card, people won’t be allowed to enter airports or federal buildings, receive government services, and quite possibly be barred from doing business with banks and other financial institutions.
The only purpose behind an identification card is to allow the government to require you to show it to them. Is that the sort of country we want to be? Didn’t we do battle with a country just like that 60 years ago? How far America has fallen.