What does a REAL ID look like?

The REAL ID Act, passed in 2005, will require state governments to issue drivers’ licenses which conform to federal standards starting in 2008. But the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t yet figured out what those standards will be.

Conforming ID cards will be required for federal and other services, such as opening bank accounts, boarding airplanes, entering courthouses or receiving welfare.

DHS spokesman Jarrod Agen said that proposed rules would be released followed by a public comment period. “The odds are pretty good that it will be the later half of this year,” he told CongressDaily.

DHS is developing the standards with input from the Document Security Alliance, a consortium of government agencies and private companies in the security industry. Reed Stager, the chief of the government affairs committee for the alliance, said, “It will be a challenge for everyone. I believe there will be a lot of work required to become compliant, and it depends on what the final rulemaking is.”

The Document Security Alliance recommended (PDF) that REAL ID use two-dimensional barcodes to store data, that it use photographs instead of fingerprints or other biometric data, that it use digital watermarks and other anti-forgery features, and that states be required to verify applicants’ information against the Social Security On-line Verification System and the Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlements databases.

Some states have called the act “a nightmare for all states,” saying that it would cost millions of dollars for each state to implement and that it infringes on states’ rights. And New Hampshire is considering refusing to implement REAL ID at all.

State Rep. Neal Kurk said that REAL ID has almost no benefit to anyone, but it has its down sides as well. “There’s little doubt that [refusing REAL ID] will cause burdens to our citizens,” he told the Concord Monitor. “But I ask you: What price liberty?”

One thought on “What does a REAL ID look like?

  • February 23, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Please forward this letter to every contact you can ASAP, and ask anyone who will to return it to Tom DeWeese [Tom_DeWeese@mail.vresp.com] at the American Policy Center * by MONDAY, Feb. 25th.* There is a very real chance Congress will vote on the SAVE Act on the following day. This may well be our last opportunity to stop this very dangerous bill.

    February 25, 2008

    The Honorable Heath Shuler

    512 Cannon House Office Building

    Washington, DC 20515-3311

    The Honorable Brian P. Bilbray

    227 Cannon House Office building

    Washington, DC 29515-0550

    Dear Representatives Shuler and Bilbray:

    We are writing this letter to express concerns with two sections of your bill, The Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act, (The SAVE Act, H.R. 4088. Specifically the two sections are Section 201, (Mandatory Employment Authorization Verification through the E-Verify System) and Section 203 (Establishment of Electronic Birth and Death Registration Systems).

    While your efforts to provide immigration reform by securing America’s borders and enforcing existing laws are admirable our differences are in the need for government data banks which snare all Americans in their nets in order to find the few law breakers.

    Freedom is a very difficult thing to protect. The definition of freedom can be twisted to accept anything in its name. Many believe that freedom means being safe. Many now believe that creating a national matrix to document our every movement is freedom.

    The question of whether a National ID is good or bad is really a question of who is the predator and who is the prey. In the case of illegal immigration clearly those who want to rid the nation of illegals are the predators. So it is easy to support such means to rid us of this threat. Some of us may even take pride in being able to “show our papers” to prove “we are American citizens.” It’s pretty compelling — until the same system is used to make us the prey.

    That is our fear, and that is why we oppose any excuse to create even a small piece of a National ID databank system. Inevitably, under such a system, someday we will all become the prey.

    Once begun, even for an honorable purpose, how can the system be controlled? Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff has said, “Again, eventually, this might allow us to do double-duty or triple duty, have the same license also be used to cross the border, and be used for a whole host of other purposes where you now have to carry different identification.” Could it be that those other purposes won’t match what you are hoping to accomplish? Could it be that once such a system is in place it will be out of our control?

    Congressional testimony by Professor Ben Shneiderman of the University of Maryland explains in great detail the problems inherent in trying to integrate existing data banks as a means to guarantee identification.

    “While most proposals have been well intentioned, some have been misguided in that they overlook the potential for unintended consequences or underestimate the technical challenges and risks inherent in their implementation.”

    Professor Shneiderman, an expert in human-computer interaction, went on to say: “A national ID system requires a complex integration of social and technical systems, including humans to enter and verify data, plus hardware, software and networks to store and transmit. Such socio-technical systems are always vulnerable to error, breakdown, sabotage and destruction by natural events or by people with malicious intentions.

    For this reason, the creation of a single system of identification could unintentionally result in degrading the overall safety and security of the nation, because of the unrealistic trust in the efficacy of the technology…

    We must ask whether there is now a secure data base that consists of 300 million individual records that can be accessed in real time? The government agencies which come close are the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration, neither of which are capable of maintaining a network that is widely accessible and responsive to voluminous queries on a 24 hour by 7 days a week basis.”

    No matter how much we may desire a quick, easy solution to deal with the issue of illegal immigration; no matter how well intentioned we may be to enforce tough laws to make it happen, sometimes such actions are worse than the problem they seek to solve. So it is with using federal data banks to establish “verifiable” Identification.

    Moreover, the E-Verify System is not designed, nor ready for the massive accessibility required to meet the requirements of Section 201. The SS data bank is dirty. And it was not created for the purpose of authenticating citizenship.

    But it is argued that the E-Verify System is already in existence and therefore not helping to create a National ID Card. Consider this congressional testimony by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC): “Under the newly announced changes, the Department of Homeland Security will (1) greatly expand E-Verify, (2) raise fines against employers by 25 percent, (3) increasingly use criminal action against employers, as opposed to administrative action, (4) add to the numbers of databases E-Verify checks by including visa and passport databases, (5) ask states to “voluntarily” allow DHS access to their motor vehicle databases, and (6) use an “enhanced photograph capability” that will allow employers to check photographs in E-Verify databases. These do not resolve the many problems already in E-Verify; instead, the Department of Homeland Security has made the employment eligibility verification worse.”

    We believe that you are honestly trying to create a method by which Identification can be verified. However, it appears you have accepted the premise that the Driver’s License is the proper means of identification. In fact it is not. The driver’s license is strictly an authorization to drive on American streets and should stay that way. To enforce an ID through DMVs means empowering a hoard of state government employees who were never supposed to have such power, allowing them access to information they aren’t supposed to have and in so doing, creating a false sense of security that simply isn’t valid.

    In order to protect the privacy of the American people it is essential that we decouple identification from driver’s licenses.

    The only proper government entity specifically designed to have such information and responsibility is the U.S. Department of State. It alone should have the responsibility to create documents that establish and authenticate identity and that monitor and permit border crossings. And that is really what we are talking about here — border crossings, legal or illegal.

    In fact, the State Department is now developing a new passport “card” that possibly could be used to satisfy citizen status that you seek under SAVE. It is less than a full passport and it comes in a wallet size that could be easily carried just as the driver’s license. While it is true that the Card contains an RFID chip (not to our liking) the chip contains no personal information — only a unique number linking the card to stored records contained in secured government data bases. The passport Card currently is not valid for flying, but that could be fixed.

    We don’t specifically advocate use of such a card for many of the same reasons argued here. But, if the nation is determined to go down the road of government documentation of American citizens, then something on the lines of the passport Card is preferable to creating a vast new system through state DMVs, as long as its purpose is very narrow and strictly enforced so as not to be expanded for secondary uses.

    If the goal is to secure the nation’s borders, both from the threat of terrorists and illegal immigration, there are other means to do it aside from creating massive national data banks which ensnare legal, law abiding citizens hoping to live in a free country. These other methods can include building the wall; deploying troops if necessary; supporting the Border Patrol; detaining illegals for court appearances; denying services like schools, hospitals and welfare to illegals; denying citizenship to the new born of illegals; denying college tuition discounts to illegals; and prosecuting sanctuary cities.

    None of these things require the establishment of data bases. Recent history has shown that removing such incentives in communities has resulted in lower illegal populations. They leave voluntarily.

    Simply looking to punish businesses by making them the first line of defense when the federal government refuses to do its job by enforcing the items listed above, is cowardice and grossly unfair. It puts a burden on both employers and potential employees (a vast majority of whom are law abiding Americans) rather than putting the burden where it belongs — on illegals.

    As we seek much needed solutions to the very real threat of illegal immigration, we need to disengage from the politics of fear. We are being given a false choice in the immigration war. We are being told that we must sacrifice freedom so that we may have order and security. It’s simply not a true choice.

    As Katherine Albrecht, author of the book “Spychips” wrote, “One of the most surveilled people in history were the Soviets under communist rule. During Stalin’s decades-long reign of terror and the KGB era that followed, government agents could intercept and read mail, listen in on phone calls, and plant informants to probe their neighbors’ political views and assess their loyalty to the state.

    The surveillance was near complete, but did the watchful eye of the state keep the Soviet people safe? Hardly. It seems no coincidence that history’s most watchful regime was also one of its most deadly. Between 1917 and 1987, the Soviet government killed over 60 million of its own citizens — more than any other government in the 20th Century.”

    Freedom is a difficult concept to retain. We live in dangerous times indeed and we must be very careful in our actions as we seek to achieve certain goals. Just because the technology exists, does not mean that it is the solution to our problem. Nor does its existence require us to use it, especially if such use will make this or other problems worse. This is the case with integrating unrelated, and poorly verified data bases which always has unintended consequences.

    In addition, it must also be stated that people of various faiths are opposed to the creation of such government surveillance on religious grounds as a matter of conscience.

    We believe Sections 201 and 203 of the SAVE Act are helping to create parts of a matrix that will lead to a National ID system which will destroy our liberty. Those are the very liberties you see as threatened by illegal immigration. Illegal immigration can be stopped — but if allowed to start, a National ID will be forever. In such a system today’s predators will be tomorrow’s prey.

    For these reasons, the undersigned organizations and individuals oppose enactment of the SAVE Act.


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