January, 2007
Revised May, 2008

First, here is a brief summary:

For an act that places unprecedented infringements on our individual privacy, the Real ID Act of 2005 has surprisingly gained little publicity. Most people, including many state legislators, know little about the act and its' implications. When I first researched Real ID, in December, 2006, I was working in a newspaper office. Taking a quick poll of the people around my desk, which included a managing editor and five other news editors - people usually well-informed - found that none of them knew anything about the Real ID Act. They had not heard of it!

Most people are now aware that their driver's licenses are changing. They are not really aware of what Real ID really is, let alone the cost it may eventually have to their individual freedom and their right to make their own decisions. This post will try to give a bit of a summary of how Real ID came to be, who supports it, who opposes it, and why.

How Did This Happen?

Congress approved, but, in the case of most members, did not really approve of Real ID. It was shoved down their throats using a flaw in our political system that allows completely unrelated pieces of legislation to be tied to one another. Congress was forced to swallow or spit out their individual political futures.

In May of 2005, President George Bush signed into law the Real ID Act (HR 418), authorizing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to supercede state laws protecting individual rights of privacy, and requiring states to surrender their regulatory rights over driver's licenses and birth certificates to the federal government. States must bear the financial burden of implementing a national database of personal information, giving each resident, citizen and non-citizen alike, a unique identifying number, with no restrictions on the type of data accumulated and electronically stored under that number, or how that information is used, and by whom.

Your Papers, Please

Touted as an important tool in the "War on Terror", and passed without significant congressional debate, the Real ID Act will require each state to conform to DHS protocols when issuing driver's licenses and state ID cards. At the present time, unless DHS decides to make a change, states will retain their state-issued ID numbers. However, any good database programmer will tell you it is inevitable that this will eventually change to some sort of standardized number. This only makes sense when you are trying to maintain the integrity of a database system holding millions of individual records. Once the system is implemented, you can be assured the next step will be to say "This system is just too clumsy and insecure. For your protection, a centralized database has been established to make your private information more secure." This will be the official word. The databases are already in place, which is too lengthy a subject to go in to here.

The act also dictates the presentation, storage and interstate access to information required to verify that you are who you say you are. Whether it is defined as such or not, your drivers license or state ID will become a National ID Card - or, if you will, an internal passport. Indeed, if you are not carrying your state-issued card, an Internal Passport will be required in order to do a number of things we take for granted today. ("Your papers, please.")

"Voluntary" compliance

The act is not a mandate, but a request for compliance. States who do not wish to receive federal funding in other areas, or who's residents find no need to work, vote, travel, cash a check, open a bank account, enter a federal building, go to the hospital, enroll in a public school, receive Medicare or other federal benefits, purchase insurance, or buy a gun, will have no real need to comply.

How to Shove a Bill Down the Throats of Congress

The Real ID bill was first introduced in 2004 by House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). The Congressman, backed by a number of House Republicans, almost sunk the entire intelligence reform bill at the end of the final 2004 Congress by refusing to sign the conference agreement without the inclusion of the Real ID bill, which had overwhelming opposition. In order to get the intelligence reform bill on the books, House Republican leaders promised Sensenbrenner that if he backed off, one way or another, they would get his ID bill passed in early 2005.

Moving such controversial legislation through the House and Congress is no easy task. That is, unless it is piggy-backed on legislation that no politician concerned about their career would dare vote against. The game of politics in full play, that is exactly what was done.

Defined as "emergency, must-pass legislation", HR 1268, The Emergency Supplemental Wartime Appropriations Act, appropriated funds for the war in Iraq, U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, and relief for the victims of the December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. HR 1268 passed the House on March 16th, 2005 on a vote of 388 to 43, was sent to Congress and passed on May 10th, and signed into law by George Bush on May 11th. Quietly going along for the ride, and thus skirting significant floor or committee debate or hearing, was Sensenbrenner's Real ID Act.

RFID & Biometrics

States were given until May, 2008 to comply with the bills provisions, although recent extensions have been introduced. The provisions of compliance are up to the discretion (and I use that term loosely) of Homeland Security, who has the power to define or augment the particulars, from time to time, as they see fit.

These protocols include a "common machine-readable technology". The word "common", according to DHS, means that the same technology will be used throughout the interstate system. Magnetic strips, enhanced barcodes, or RFID (Radio Frequency Identifier chips - which can be read from a distance without your knowledge) may be used. The choice is up to Homeland Security, who may also add additional requirements, like "biometric identifiers" such as your fingerprints or a retinal scan.

Homeland Security was pushing hard for the RFID chip. Due to objections from state governments and privacy advocates, for various reasons, in January of 2008 DHS announced that a bar code strip will be used. However, since DHS can change the rules at any time, given their propensity for more modern electronic technology, one can almost say it is a foregone conclusion that, once Real ID is established, it will not be long before RFID or biometric identifiers, or both, will be required.

National ID History

The concept of a national ID is nothing new. From the bill back in the 1950's where one senator proposed Social Security Numbers be assigned and tattooed to babies feet at birth, time and time again, over the years, bills have been proposed and rejected. Personal privacy and security have consistently taken precedence over government and commercial interests to give each of us an identifying number. Presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan have all spoken out against the use of a national ID. When Congress created the Department of Homeland Security, it stated clearly that no authority was given to the agency to create a national ID system. In September 2004, Tom Ridge, DHS secretary at the time, stated "The legislation that created the Department of Homeland Security was very specific on the question of a national ID card. They said there will be no national ID card." So, the Real ID Act is not the implementation of a national ID card. It is a "voluntary standardization of state driver licensing and ID procedures". This is word play. I say, if it looks like a duck ...

Proponents and Opponents

Proponents say Real ID will help to secure our borders and prevent terrorism. According to Sensenbrenner, "The goal of the Real ID Act is straightforward: it seeks to prevent another 9/11-type attack by disrupting terrorist travel." Whether spawned from ignorant concepts or necessary spin, comments like these are simply convenient excuses, riding on the coattails of fear, for tracking and maintaining data on each and every American citizen. Experts in the electronic security field say implementation of the act will only increase identity theft and will do little to prevent terrorists from entering and motivating within our borders.

Bruce Schneider, internationally renowned security technologist, says "All the 9/11 terrorists had photo IDs. Some of the IDs were real. Some were fake. Some were real IDs in fake names, bought from a crooked DMV employee in Virginia for $1,000 each." He goes on to say, "Harder-to-forge IDs only help marginally, because the problem is not making sure the ID is valid. Our goal is to somehow identify the few bad guys scattered in the sea of good guys. In an ideal world, what we'd want is some kind of ID that denotes intention. We'd want all terrorists to carry a card that says "evildoer" and everyone else to carry a card that said "honest person who won't try to hijack or blow up anything." Then, security would be easy."

Over 600 organizations, including the House and Senate of the State of Washington (See H-3525.1 House Joint Memorial 4029), American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, American Library Association, Association for Computing Machinery, National Council of State Legislatures, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Cato Institute, and National Governors Association oppose the Real ID act. The reasons are many. For starters, the program is unfunded. This leaves the burden of funding to the states. Washington State estimates the cost of implementing the program at $251.1 million over 6 years. Some other state's estimates are much higher.

According to a state-by-state survey conducted by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), the cost for such a system would be astronomical. A complete redesign of every state's motor vehicle database into a common format would be required, as well as direct network connections among every state. The AAMVA believes, instead, that some type of "pointer" system should be put in place, pointing to the relevant state for further information. The AAMVA is familiar with such a system. They designed one and it was proposed under the 1998 Transportation Bill (TEA-21). Named the Driver Record Information Verification System (DRIVerS), this system was shelved after states complained that it would be too costly to implement. In comparison, the system proposed by the Real ID act would be many times more costly and difficult to implement.

Why This is Not Funded by the Federal Government

It is important to note that the financial burden is placed on the states because the federal government is broke. As activist Aaron Bolinger put it, "The message is this: Congress has no money. The national debt is over $9 trillion. The only way Congress could pay for Real ID would be if they BORROWED the money to do so. Another $11 billion plus would need to be borrowed. Borrowing is done using the Treasury department issuing 30 year T-Bills and other certificates of debt that are paid off down the road (by more borrowing). Therefore, for Congress to Pay for Real ID, they would need to literally send the bill to our grandchildren to enslave THIS generation."

Insecure "Security" and Your Personal Information

Real ID requires that, when an individual applies for a license or ID, state DMVs "shall verify, with the issuing agency, the issuance, validity, and completeness of each document required to be presented." Applicants will need to present a photo ID, proof of date of birth, proof of social security number (or proof of lack of eligibility), proof of address, and proof of citizenship or lawful immigration status. DHS has the authority to add any other information to this list that it deems appropriate. Using currently available systems some verification can be performed electronically, most cannot. This private and sensitive information on nearly every American citizen, once received, verified and stored electronically, is to be instantly accessible through an immense database network by airlines, police vehicles, and other government and non-government agencies. "The security risks are enormous", says security expert Schneider. "Such a database would be a kludge of existing databases; databases that are incompatible, full of erroneous data, and unreliable. As computer scientists, we do not know how to keep a database of this magnitude secure, whether from outside hackers or the thousands of insiders authorized to access it."

The chances of your personal information being secure are miniscule, at best. In 2006, the Department of Defense, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, The Federal Trade Commission, The U. S. Navy, the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Education, the Transportation Security Administration, the Department of Commerce and Census Bureau, the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the Department of Transportation all suffered from breeches of personal information. Nationally, in the last two years, over 100 million records containing individual personal information have been reported by government and private organizations to be lost, stolen, or otherwise compromised. Unreported events could double that figure. A national registry with little legislated safeguards will be a gold mine for thieves and legal data-miners alike.

State laws protecting individual privacy and liberty will be rendered invalid by Real ID. For instance, under the act, addresses must be a verifiable physical place of residence. Anita Ramasastry, former staff attorney at the Federal Reserve Bank, and now Associate Professor of Law at the University of Washington says, "That will predictably cause problems for persons who may fear for their personal safety, including judges, police officers or domestic violence victims - or persons who simply may not have a permanent home, such as the homeless, who may be urgently in need or Medicare or other benefits. There needs to be a procedure to ensure these persons' safety and welfare; currently, the Real ID Act has none."

Since the act places no restrictions on the collection and use of data, another problem arises with the inevitable collection of personal information by bar owners and other businesses electronically scanning IDs, collecting that information and selling it to data-mining companies, like ChoicePoint, Acxiom, Insight America and Qsent. Add to that DHS's strong desire to use RFID chips as identifiers, allowing, among other hazards, the electronic tracking of individuals, an individual's loss of mobility and liberty due to erroneous information, as well as the inevitable expansion of use by other government agencies, employers, landlords, insurers, credit agencies, mortgage brokers, direct mailers, private investigators, civil litigants and a long list of other private parties, and you have a very serious breech of the liberties our constitution was written to protect. To any good student of history, rebuking such inevitable breeches is just good common sense.

Trojan Horse

When the Real ID bill was introduced, Representative Ron Paul stated "This bill is a Trojan horse. It pretends to offer desperately needed border control in order to stampede Americans into sacrificing what is uniquely American: our constitutionally protected liberty."

Welcome to the North American Union

As an added bonus, in the name of "security" [?] this information is to be shared with databases in Canada and Mexico. This wouldn't have anything to do with the formation of the North American Union would it? Of course not!