Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

REAL ID: A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Idea

Today brings us  new Federal guidelines related the REAL ID Act.  Passed in 2005, the Act purports to “prevent terrorism, reduce fraud, and improve the reliability and accuracy of identification documents that State governments issue.” Well, that’s how the Department of Homeland Security puts it, anyway. And how is it going to accomplish that? Well, by essentially turning your state-issued driver’s license into a Federal national ID card. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m rather opposed to national ID cards, for a number of reasons:

  • It’s a completely unnecessary invasion of my privacy. The REAL ID Act requires that my driver’s license contain machine readable biometric details, residential address, and hi-res picture of me. While my local DMV has a perfectly legitimate interest in having my details and address, the doorman to the Federal Trade Commission most certainly does not. And today’s rules make it clear that in order to enter any Federal building in 2014, the doorman will get those details.  Further, before a REAL ID can be issued, the DMV will need to verify your birth certificate with the original issuing authority.  Not so hard to do for me, perhaps, but my father?  Not likely.  And if someone else has used your Social Security number?  Be prepared for a thorough government investigation into your identity.
  • It creates one stop shopping for identity theft. Think not? Ask 25 million Britons how they feel about that.  Sure, you can suffer from identity theft now, but there is no single repository that contains as much information about citizens as there would be in a post-REAL ID world.
  • This is yet another industry-generated “security problem” in search of an industry-generated solution in the form of massive government contracts. Like so many other ineffective and pointless schemes to “keep us safe”, much of the impetus behind the REAL ID Act can be traced to the companies that would provide the technology and services to implement it. Digimarc (reaching beyond the DRM mines it has mastered) has latched onto the REAL ID Act, spending $350k to lobby for implementation of the REAL ID Act. And that was just in the first half of 2007.  Further, the cost to state governments to implement the Act is massive.  Oh, and remember that rule about showing REAL ID to get into a Federal building in 2014?  Well, that’s only if you’re 50 or younger.   Clearly a system focused on safety, eh?
  • Once this universal identity system is in place, it is ripe for expansion and abuse. This, by far, is my biggest problem with a national ID. I think we’ve got some pretty awful historical lessons in the abuses governments are capable of when they can clearly identify members of a given minority or collect and store information on individual citizens. Further, looking forward, I think there’s a real risk of limiting your access to communications and travel, depending on your identity. Don’t believe me? As far as DHS is concerned right now, unless you get one of these IDs, you’ll not be able to board a plane in 2014. And just wait until the MPAA/RIAA start convincing Congress that the way to cut down on piracy (and keep our children safe!) is requiring that everyone use their REAL IDs to log in when using the Internet.

So, what can you do?

  • Well, you can learn more about the REAL ID Act and its impact. I hope I’ve given a good summary of the risks here, but many organizations have put a lot of work into summarizing and analyzing the impact. I recommend checking out EPIC’s and the ACLU’s REAL ID sites.
  • You can urge your Senators and Representative to repeal the act. EFF makes that very easy, with this tool.
  • You can urge your state to reject the REAL ID Act. In doing so, it would be joining 17 other states that have passed anti-REAL ID legislation. The results range from simply urging the Federal gov’t to repeal the act, to outright declarations that a state will not comply with the act. What’s happening in your state? Find out here. If you live in Virginia, you can urge your delegate to work with Del. Chris Peace (R-97) to improve HJ42.


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  1. Peej

    I am in the same boat as your father, when it comes to confirming the original birth certificate, as you know, but my sister’s the one who’s going to have the most fun since hers was issued from on eof the big bad three.
    Argh, between this and the national id to maintain my Brit citizenship/passport in two years, I am just THRILLED to bits.
    And, oh look, NJ isn’t rejecting it, yet. What a surprise.
    (Between this and the TSA posts from you and sasha earlier this week, my head has exploded into itty, bitty pieces).

  2. MB

    Don’t say exploded, or you’ll probably end up on the same list as my other friends.

    You know, I’ve really lost my humor about the US turning to a surveillance state. The gov’t is clearly going to grab for everything it can, and the population obviously doesn’t give a shit. A part of me wants to just roll with the ‘people get the gov’t they deserve’ boat. I have the resources and ability to make sure that I’m never vulnerable to this surveillance, so why should I care, right? Except not.

    Absolutely not.

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