The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

States Rebel in Droves against Real ID Act

by Catherine Komp

Mar. 22, 2007 – As the federal government continues to push forward the controversial Real ID Act, a growing number of states and public-interest groups are taking measures to block the initiative.

The Act requires states to meet certain security and documentation standards in order for federal agencies to accept driver’s licenses and identification cards as "official."

Opponents of Real ID, many of whom say the program is another step in establishing a "surveillance society," cite privacy and security risks as well as the cost of implementing a high-tech program that requires states to re-enroll millions of people who already have valid IDs. Some also oppose the law because it strips states of the ability to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

The New Hampshire House Transportation Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday for a bill that would prohibit the state’s participation in the Real ID program and any similar federal initiative in the future. The one-page bill, which now goes to the full House, states that Real ID "is contrary and repugnant" to both the New Hampshire and the US Constitutions.

Across the country in Nevada, the state assembly’s Transportation Committee voted Tuesday to pass a bill urging the US Congress to repeal the Real ID Act, citing the multi-billion-dollar cost to taxpayers for implementing the program.

The Real ID Act, passed in 2005 as a rider on a military spending bill, creates national standards for driver’s licenses. Earlier this month, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued proposed regulations that states would implement by May 2008 to comply with the Act. These include standardized security features, machine-readable technology and establishing a database of personal information that all states could access.

New Hampshire's bill states that Real ID "is contrary and repugnant" to both the state and the US Constitutions.

DHS is accepting comments on the proposed regulations until May 8, 2007.

On March 8, Idaho passed a joint resolution rejecting the Real ID program, citing "serious constitutional and privacy problems," as well as the "unfunded mandate" from Congress. The resolution states that the legislature will not appropriate any funds to the Real ID program – except for use in mounting "a constitutional challenge to the act by the state attorney general" or to examine the costs of implementing the Act.

In January, Maine became the first state to pass anti-Real ID legislation, approved overwhelmingly in both houses of the legislature.

At least 20 other states have similar legislation pending, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, an opponent of the federal program.

This coming weekend, activists in Madison, Wisconsin are planning a march to the state capitol to urge state and federal lawmakers to repeal Real ID provisions.

Public-interest advocates and civil liberties groups have been campaigning against Real ID for several years, spawning watchdog and information websites such as the Unrealid.com, Realidrebellion.com and the ACLU’s Realnightmare.org. Despite the federal government’s insistence that the program does not create a national identity card, groups say it is a precursor to an "internal passport" system that could be used to monitor and track people’s movements. Critics also say the interconnected database system and machine-readable IDs create an increased risk of identity theft and could be exploited by corporations looking to collect personal data.

Despite the federal government’s insistence that the program does not create a national identity card, groups say it is a precursor to an "internal passport" system that could be used to monitor and track people’s movements.

Some also say the program, which requires that Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) employees determine that an applicant is a US citizen or qualifying immigrant, will cause discrimination based on how a person looks or sounds. Pointing out the complexity of authenticating documentation, the ACLU warns that "citizens of color, persons with accents, those with limited English ability or fluency, and anyone who ‘seems’ foreign to a DMV bureaucrat is likely to be interrogated more, to have his or her documents scrutinized with suspicion, to be treated as suspect, and to be denied a license or targeted for further questioning or investigation."

On Capital Hill in Washington, DC, there is also some opposition. US Representative Tom Allen (D–Maine) and Senator Daniel Akaka (D–Hawaii) introduced bills in February that would repeal part of the Real ID Act, provide states with more funding and regulatory control, and create more safeguards for privacy and civil liberties.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


Catherine Komp is a contributing journalist.

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