People in the Department of Homeland Security, especially Secretary Michael Chertoff, have been pushing the Real ID Act. This act, which seems to have been slyly put into a 2005 emergency military spending and tsunami relief bill, is intended to create a national ID system.
At this time the plan is that all 245 million people who have driver’s licenses or state IDs will have to go to the DMV and receive a new ID. In order to get the ID a person will need to provide a photo ID, a birth certificate, a valid Social Security number and evidence of residence. Each state will need to keep track of all this data and store it in a secure manner.
The main (and only) argument for the Real ID is that is alleged to be essential to national security. The idea is that such an ID will make it harder for terrorists to commit acts of terror.
Despite the claims made by the few proponents of Real ID, at least half the states have passed legislation condemning it and some states have already refused to go along with the plan.
While conservatives are supposed to be for state’s rights, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has made it clear that those who do not conform will be severely inconvenienced. Real ID cards will be required for all “federal purposes.” This means that anyone who wants to fly, go into a federal building or even a national park will need the ID. Those who do not have one because their state is defying the plan will need to use their passport.
The Real ID plan is a terribly idea and is extremely problematic from both a practical and ethical standpoint.
The first practical problem is the cost. The Department of Homeland Security claims that the cost of the program will be $23.1 billion over the course of a decade. The states are expected to bear $14 billion of this cost. At this time $40 million has been approved-but not yet provided. Given the money being shoveled into Iraq and the rest of the war on terror, it is not clear where this money will come from-unless we borrow yet more money from China to pay for it.
The second practical problem is that the program will require a massive new infrastructure that must be secured. The states will need to build new facilities in order to process the Real IDs and to store all the data in a secure manner. Naturally, this infrastructure will cost a great deal of money (leading back to the first problem) and it will put a great deal of sensitive data in one place. Given the general track record for security, it can be expected that this data will eventually be stolen or simply acquired by business and other government organizations. This information will almost certainly be misused in various ways. This is clearly a huge potential problem.
The third problem is that the Real ID program will not work. This is for a variety of reason. One reason is that any document can be forged-if not the Real ID, then the documents needed to get one can be faked. A second reason is that terrorists can use legitimate IDs. We have been warned over and over about homegrown terrorists and terrorists who simply seem to be normal people. These people will be able to get Real IDs and it will not stop them. A third reason is that terrorists can simply sneak into the country through Canada or Mexico. A fourth reason is that terrorists can use foreign IDs-unless, of course, Homeland Security is able to get every country in the world to participate in the system.
The fourth practical problem is that it seems that many states will not go along with the plan. This effectively renders the Real ID system all but useless.
The final practical problem is that there seems to be no need for it. We have not had the program in effect and have not been attacked. If it was that essential, then there should have been attacks launched through this allegedly gaping hole in our security.
In addition to the practical problems, there are also moral problems.
The first moral problem is that the Real ID system would waste state and federal funds that could be better used elsewhere. Even if the Real ID system worked and prevented some terrorist attacks, this would most likely only save a few lives and some property. The same money, if spent on health care, could save thousands of lives. Spending so much money for so little when there are far better ways to spend it is morally wrong.
The second moral problem is that the Real ID is being imposed on the states and many people against their will. This certainly seems to be potentially a violation of states’ rights. While there are moral grounds on which the federal government can impose on the states, this situation seems to lack such grounds.
The third problem is that the Real ID seems to involve clear violation of privacy rights and it puts, as noted above, private data at risk. This potential for harm certainly seems to outweigh what little good the Real ID system might do.
In light of the practical and moral problems, the Real ID plan is a bad idea.
One might wonder why it is being pushed. From my cynical viewpoint, it is because of the neo-fascist leanings that infect the Bush administration. The neo-fascist mindset is quiet obsessed with IDs, collecting data, violating privacy and restricting liberty. This can be shown by examining fascist and oppressive governments throughout history. This sort of behavior (along with incompetence) has been the hallmark of the Bush administration. Hence, it is no surprise that such a system is being pushed. It is also no surprise that it will be expensive, immoral, impractical and useless.