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Understanding the REAL ID

Michael Kalvor

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On May 11, 2005, President George W. Bush signed into law the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005 (U. S. House 2005). In a nutshell, the bill was introduced as a way to get federal funds out quickly for use in times of emergency such as the title suggests. However, also contained within this legislation was the REAL ID Act of 2005, which says that within a timeframe determined by the federal government, each state will be required to comply with the a regulated set of federal standards on the issuance of a national identification are for all Americans (U. S. House 2005). The initial act did not give a specified set of regulations for the Real ID, as those were to be determined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at a later date. In March of 2007 the DHS issued a draft of its requirements for the Real ID, and on January 11, 2008, the final regulations. Among other things, these rules say the government will begin enforcing the laws as laid out by the original act starting in May of 2008. Since its inception, the Real ID Act has been an extremely controversial issue on many levels. Supporters of the Real ID believe that the issuance of a national identification card by each state, but in accordance of regulations laid out by the federal government under the Real ID Act of 2005, will help make America safer from terrorism, as well as improve security on other domestic issues.

Proponents of the Real ID all cite protection from terrorism, by combating illegal terrorist activities, as the primary reason for the issuance of a national identification card (Carafano, 2007). However, also included in their argument, are uses such as helping to prevent illegal immigration, identity theft among Americans, and easing the use of shared information among states in domestic criminal situations. Those in favor argue that if a national id card were to be implemented it would greatly reduce the ability of a terrorist to enter the United States illegally through false identification. The September 11th attacks are obviously the first and foremost example cited for this argument. House Judiciary Committee Chairman and Wisconsin Republican F. James Sensenbrenner, who first introduced the Real ID Act points out, “[The 9/11 terrorists] chose our driver's licenses and states ID's as their forms of identification because these documents allowed them to blend in and not raise suspicion or concern. " He goes on to note that one of the primary highjackers had a six month long visa to stay in the United States, but then received a Florida driver's license that was good for six years (Lungren).

In my opinion the Real ID should not be adopted by the Federal government, or any state government, because it infringes on our Constitutional and civil liberties. As Congressman Ron Paul points out in a speech given in the House of Representatives in opposition of the Bill, the creators of this law always advertise that it is, in fact, voluntary. However, by choosing to voluntarily not adopt the ID, citizens will become “non-persons" because as far as the federal government is concerned, their current ID will not be accepted. Specifically this means they would not be able to fly, either domestically or internationally (Paul 2005). In an article on the Real ID from the University of Illinois Journal of Law, Technology & Policy, Govindaiah also points out that people without the card would also not be able to receive Medicare (Govindaiah 2006). So, while it can accurately argued that the Real ID is voluntary on paper, in reality, if the federal government decides to seriously enforce the law, there will be nothing voluntary about it. This type of federally controlled identification reminds me of old war movies where the Nazi soldiers are always asking people to “show me your papers" before they are allowed to cross borders or get on trains.

A website established by the American Civil Liberties Union lists several other good reasons why the Real ID is going to create problems for our country. These include increased risk of identity theft, a huge increase in bureaucratic red tape in many aspects of our daily lives, and billions of dollars cost that will have to be paid by the states even though the federal government mandated the law (ACLU 2008).

Besides ALL of the reasons listed above that show how the Real ID would invade our lives, each ID card is also supposed to contain a Radio Frequency Identification Tag (RFID). This tiny implanted electronic device would allow the government to know exactly where the carrier is at any given time they walk by an RFID tag reader. This sounds inconsequential at first because one would think; well it is not like there are RFID tag readers on every corner. Actually, there are. Those security systems at the door of every type of store across the country that beep loudly if it thinks you stole something, are in fact, RFID tag readers. These will be used, without modification, to track anyone going near one of these devices. It is quite literally, 1984 come to life.

In my opinion, the Real ID could be acceptably adopted if, and only if, it truly was optional, and held no consequences for those who chose not to participate in the program. It would also only be acceptable if there were no rules implementing the RFID tag, or any other type of electronic identification within the card.

In conclusion, I believe a compromised solution is possible for the Real ID. First and foremost, allow the states themselves to opt out. The government can go ahead and pass all of the needed legislation, and begin the Real ID program, however each state, as is required by the constitution, must be able to opt out of the program with no consequence whatsoever, to its citizens. Secondly, even for the states that do choose to allow the Real ID, any citizen must be able to opt out and not have a card if they do not want to. Finally, the Real ID could be constitutionally and civilly acceptable, if it were to be issued without any type of electronic identification attached, such as the RFID tags. If each of these suggestions was adopted by the federal government I believe almost all of the controversy surrounding the Real ID would disappear. Some people would get one and feel they are helping fight terrorism and those who feel civil liberties are more important would still be able to keep their constitutional rights.

Want to read more about the REAL ID Act and other current events out of Washington? Read more articles like this one here .

Works Cited

U. S. House. 2005. Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005. 109th Cong. , 1st sess. , H. R. 1268.

U. S. House. 2005. REAL ID Act of 2005. 109th Cong. , 1st sess. , H. R. 1268.

Lungren, Jeff. “Sensenbrenner Introduces Terrorist Travel Legislation. " U. S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Newsroom 26 Jan 2006. 03 Feb 2008 judiciary. house. gov/newscenter.aspx?A=430

Carafano, J. J. (2007). Making REAL ID a reality - Concerns, challenges, choices, solutions. The Heritage Foundation. 1-6.

Govindaiah, M. (2006). Driver licensing under the real id act: Can current technology balance security and privacy?. University of Illinois Journal of Law, Technology & Policy.

American Civil Liberties Union, What's wrong with the real id. Retrieved April 10, 2008, from Real Nightmare Web site:


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