The Real ID Act passed the U.S. congress and was signed into law by President George W. Bush in May of 2005. Provisions in the Act required every state to issue driver’s licenses that would comply with a national standard. The Act came about in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States. The Muslim terrorists who hijacked the airplanes had obtained fraudulent identification, including driver’s licenses that helped them to board the planes they flew into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Many states responded negatively to the implementation of the Real ID Act and opposed it.
So far, twenty-four states have enacted anti-Real ID bills or resolutions. Fifteen of those states—including Missouri—enacted binding legislation which prohibits state officials from any participation in the Real ID program. It was a concern in Missouri that the Department of Revenue had given a list of conceal carry holders’ names to the database created by the Real ID law, an act that is still under investigation in our state. In response, the legislature took away from the Department of Revenue the ability to issue conceal carry permits and gave that responsibility to local county sheriffs, fearing that the conceal and carry list in the possession of the Departments of Revenue was somehow transferred to the Real ID database, contrary to state law.
Under the original Real ID Act, states had until May of 2008 to come into compliance or the drivers’ licenses of their citizens would no longer be accepted for federal purposes or for boarding an airplane. Consequently, the DHS, realizing the impossible demand of this Act could not be met by May of 2008, agreed to issue extensions to the states who had taken steps to begin the implementation of it. Federal authorities then asked the states to sign “memorandum of understanding” which indicated their intent to comply with the Real ID Act. Several states refused to sign the memorandum while others responded with letters saying their state was legally prohibited from any implementation of the Act. Thus the DHS issued all fifty states extensions through December 31 of 2009. These extensions have not been challenged, so the DHS, growing impatient, has announced its intention of enforcement of the Real ID Act, telling the states that continued non-compliance will carry greater consequences for their state’s citizens, primarily involving boarding airplanes and entering any federal government facility that requires identification. Passports will still be an acceptable form of ID when boarding airplanes, even if the state is not presently in compliance with the federal Real ID laws.
There are several reasons why the Real ID Act is so controversial:
1) It was not passed through a true democratic process in the U.S. Congress. It was amended onto a must-pass piece of legislation and there was not sufficient time to consider the Act and its implications upon individuals and state governments.
2) The Real ID law cannot go into effect without actions by the states. State legislatures must appropriate the money and, in some cases, change existing laws to come into compliance with it.
3) There is broad-based bipartisan opposition to the Act from privacy and civil liberty organizations as well as from conservative groups and immigration groups.
So, what is wrong with the Real ID Act? Acceptance of this law by the states would turn state drivers’ licenses into a national identity card. It would impose numerous new burdens on taxpayers, citizens, immigrants, and state governments. It would mandate states to standardize driver’s licenses into a single national identity card with the driver’s personal information going into a national database.
The construction of the fifty-state inter-linking database would make all information on each person’s file available to every other state as well as to the federal government. It would require all states to remake their driver’s licenses and to restructure their own state’s computer systems. The state would then have to expand their individual security systems, with the requirement that states set up an inter-state data sharing network. This again creates additional administrative, technical, financial, and security issues. The DHS’s initial estimate of the nationwide cost to implement this law was $23 billion. New DHS cost estimates have been scaled down to approximately $10 billion; however, a closer look shows that the division of DHS is “practicing fuzzy math and is grossly underestimating the real cost.”
It’s becoming obvious that the cost of securing our nation’s citizens from future terrorist attacks carries a high price tag. What it really comes down to is this, though: how willing are we to give up personal information for safety and security?