Real ID encroaches on our privacy, identities
By Vanessa Chong
In the name of national security, Congress is ready to impose an unfunded mandate on the states that would transform all citizens into suspects. It is time to wake up about Real ID before we lose our right to privacy, our personal identities and our power to stop an overreaching federal government.
In 2005, Real ID was essentially stuck in at the end of an emergency defense spending bill and passed without floor debate or public hearings. Although plausibly innocuous in that it federally standardizes drivers' licenses and calls for interconnected state databases to ensure "one driver, one state, one license," what Real ID would do is:
A Real ID will be essential for citizens by 2013, whether they drive or not. Real ID will be required for "any federal purpose" including flying on airplanes, entering federal offices that require ID, certain banking transactions and "any other purposes that the secretary (of Homeland Security) shall determine."
Real ID is the latest in a series of overly broad federal tactics that threaten our security, our civil rights and misdirect government resources. Americans have watched with growing alarm as Congress reauthorized the Patriot Act, legalized extraordinary renditions and torture with the Military Commissions Act, and as the National Security Agency spied without warrants on our telephone, Internet and airline use.
Real ID requires state departments of motor vehcles to store birth certificates, Social Security cards, proof of home addresses and photos of every person in the U.S. Real ID guidelines anticipate the cards to include an unencrypted machine-readable area, which will allow anyone with a reader to collect the personal information off a card. Such systems offer "one- stop shopping" to sophisticated identity thieves. Hawai'i already ranks sixth in the nation for identity theft. It is imperative that Hawai'i's citizens call for greater protections against this growing crime rather than allow the federal government to make us more vulnerable.
Real ID uses driver's licenses as an ill-suited anti-terrorism and immigration-control measure. Effectively, Real ID turns every American into a suspect, forced to re-prove our own identities. Real ID threatens civil rights by ratcheting up the degree of government scrutiny and data collection without making us any safer.
Lastly, prior to Real ID's passage, federal driver's license reform efforts were under way with state departments of motor vehicles and privacy and security experts. Real ID halted the process, excluding states from policy discussion. Recently published Real ID guidelines set forth vague and onerous requirements while punting most of the infrastructure, privacy and security work right back onto the states. Estimates set the initial costs at $17 billion to $23 billion — 63 percent to be paid by the states, 35 percent to be paid for by the people in DMV fees, and just 2.6 percent of the cost assigned to the federal government.
Currently, 26 states and a number of legislators are taking a stand against Real ID. Maine was the first state to pass legislation opting not to implement it. Sen. Daniel Akaka and colleague John Sununu have introduced the "Identification Security Enhancement Act" (S.717) to repeal the worst of Real ID and restore the earlier multi-state collaboration. The Akaka-Sununu bill fixes many of the fundamental problems with Real ID and needs your support. Please let Senator Akaka know that you oppose Real ID.
Hawai'i's Constitution is unique in that we have a right to privacy that is explicitly broader than that given in the U.S. Constitution. Hawai'i's citizens must call on their state Legislature to fulfill its affirmative obligation to defend our privacy rights against federal intrusion.
Hawai'i's history of challenging federal legislation that encroaches on its citizen's privacy is laudable. Hawai'i was the first to pass a resolution protesting the government's intrusions on privacy and civil rights in the Patrtiot Act.
Once again, Hawai'i has an opportunity to take a stand for the fundamental rights of its citizens. Hawai'i must join the growing chorus of states and citizens demanding an end to the real nightmare that is Real ID. Additional information about Real ID and its growing list of opponents can be found at http://www.realnightmare.org.
Vanessa Chong is the executive director of the ACLU of Hawai'i. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.