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Monthly Archives: March 2008

real id

The United States of America was founded on principles of democracy as represented by the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the other Amendments. Many laws, covenants, and treaties were gradually added to or subtracted from this basic body of text as our nation matured, leading to what we hope is the “ideal” set of democratic laws. However, some newer laws in rather recent history remove certain civil rights of the citizens, a troubling trend which should be of grave concern.

One of these rogue laws is the Real ID Act of 2005 which was set to take effect this year. The deadline to comply has been extended, as many states are arguing against this law and worried about the expense it will incur for each state and its citizens. On January 15th, Maryland’s Governor O’Malley asked for a two-year extension to comply with the new act, although he has called the law “bad policy”.

The Real ID Act was added to a war-funding bill in ’05. The Senate passed the bill without hearings or discussions of the Real ID part, as they did not want to delay funding needed for the Iraq war. There have been protests from a number of senators since its passage that the bill was never properly discussed and was not originally passed in the House, where appropriations bills commonly begin.

When Bill Clinton tried to get a national identification program through Congress in the ‘90’s, he heard so much opposition from Americans and their congressional representatives that proponents shelved the idea. Until now. Make no mistake, Real ID is national identification.

The original Real ID Act called for the creation of a database of U. S. drivers’ licenses to be shared with Mexico and Canada. This part of the Act did not make it into the final bill, but one wonders why it was ever considered in the first place. As it currently stands, Real ID requires that all the drivers’ licenses in each state be more secure and tamper-proof (a good idea, the only one in this bill). The data on the licenses themselves and the information collected from the supporting documents used to obtain the licenses will be stored in a massive central database accessible to, and shared by, Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) personnel in each state and employees of various federal agencies. While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), under whose purview this law will be administered, promises the data would be secure, one should be most leery of such hopeful statements in light of the well-known breaches of security in such databases as the Veteran’s Administration and the Passport Office. A database as large as will be needed for Real ID could be an identity theft problem of unimaginable proportions. Michael Chertoff, head of DHS, made the odd remark that DHS “would not prevent the use of the cards by private parties for non-governmental purposes”. That remark alone should have warned legislators not to pass Real ID.

The information requested in the application for a Real ID card (and this information would be stored in the above-mentioned database) would include a photo, address, date of birth, birth certificate, social security number, physical characteristics and driving records of the applicant.

The Real ID Act, as it stands, also requires a GPS- compatible computer chip and machine-readable technology with defined minimum data elements, the details of which are not spelled out but which will be decided later by the Secretary of DHS. What does all that mean? GPS allows the capability to track the movements of the card-holder. It also means that the cards have to possess the mechanics to accept (as yet unspecified) additional data and biometrics at some (as yet unnamed) point in the future. Biometrics are things like fingerprints, retinal scans, DNA, and the like. The FBI has just received a sizable federal grant to continue work in its biometric unit in the hopes that these biometrics can soon be collected and stored for each person. Some states are currently considering legislation that would require DNA samples from people charged with (as opposed to “convicted of”) certain crimes. Chertoff has charitably agreed to delay the implementation of the GPS chips in an effort to get more states to comply with Real ID and says he is willing to “work with” the states on some of the other data elements required.

Real ID cards will be required, according to DHS, to drive, fly to foreign or domestic destinations, enter federal buildings, and receive federal benefits such as Social Security or Medicare. DHS has publicly stated that the cards will eventually be required to open bank accounts, purchase cold medicines and get jobs. The reason it will be needed to get employment is that part of the Real ID Act makes each state’s MVA employees de facto immigration officers. The state MVAs will be responsible for verifying (as opposed to simply viewing and recording, as they do now) primary information such as birth certificates, visas, social security cards, etc. and for deciding who is a true and proper US citizen. At present, it is the police departments and federal immigration authorities who shoulder this responsibility. The Act also contains some peculiar wording about border security, border fences, and such which make this very obviously national ID and a back-door immigration reform. Here in Maryland, we currently allow illegal aliens to obtain drivers’ licenses, a fact many of the citizens dislike. Inevitably, when I have heard or read comments that are pro-Real ID, the speaker has seen Real ID as the only way to prevent illegal aliens from getting licenses. But why are the two issues of drivers’ licenses and immigration married this way? We can overhaul immigration laws without losing our rights in the meantime. We know the terrorists of 9/11 had a colorful collection of drivers’ licenses. What most people don’t seem to realize, however, is that they were not here illegally. They had been granted visas by the State Department (this, despite the fact that most of them filled out the applications with information like this: Question, “What is your destination in the United States?” Various answers included, “hotel”, “Florida”, and “no”.) Our defense against terrorists has to be handled well before the various MVAs get involved – with port and border security, immigration laws and the State Department.

The Real ID Act, as some senators and state governors are beginning to argue, has obvious privacy issues and violates both the 1st and 10th Amendments, to wit: a person without a card cannot enter any federal building, including the office of his congressman or senator or the US Capitol, thus effectively denying the right to assemble and petition the government as guaranteed in the 1st Amendment, and it implements federal legislation in an area that is the province of states, thus violating the 10th Amendment regarding state powers.

DHS has issued the statement that “Real ID does not violate the 10th Amendment because it is acting in accordance with the authority granted to it by the Real ID Act.” That is mind-boggling NewSpeak at its best. This law doesn’t violate the amendment because its passage already violated the amendment.

A steady erosion of our rights has occurred since before 9/11 and has only deepened since. Under Clinton, in 1996, a law called the “Effective Death Penalty and Anti-terrorism Act” was enacted. This law, among other things, loosened the rules on federal wiretaps, allowed the use of secret evidence and authorized the Justice Department to prosecute individuals based on political beliefs and associations. Under Bush, we have further lost civil rights with the implementation of the Patriot Act and FISA. The arguments that “we shouldn’t mind since it keeps us safe”, that “a true American has nothing to hide anyway”, or that “people who whine about civil rights are unpatriotic” are specious and ironic. By ceding the rights guaranteed under our Constitution, we are losing the very things that make us a democracy.

Some laws are good. The Bretton-Woods Agreement which tied the dollar to gold and managed exchange rates between countries, and the Glass-Steagall Act which regulated the banking and financial industries, were good ideas. The regulations surrounding the oil and utilities industries were good ideas. The over-turn of Bretton-Woods by Nixon in ’71, the deregulation of the oil and utility companies by Reagan, and the deregulation of the banking and financial institutes by Clinton have led to the current economic crisis. These laws should not have been abandoned.

Some laws are bad. Slavery, laws barring women and African-Americans from voting , prohibition – these were bad ideas and the respective laws correctly repealed.

Real ID is an example of the latter category, the bad idea catagory. It should be repealed and the issue of immigration addressed and legislated on its own. We should not have to endure insidious police-state-type regulations wherein the lawful residents of this country lose inherent rights in order to have secure borders.

You can get detailed information about Real ID all over the internet from such sources as Wikipedia, epic.org, or aclu-md.org/. You can “google” Real ID and find countless sources and can read the law in its entirety, should you so desire. There is quite a lot more to this act than “getting a new driver’s license”.

You can contact Gov. O’Malley at www.gov.state.md.us/mail/ and get e-mail addresses for your state legislators at house.state.md.us and senate.state.md.us. The ACLU has a form letter against Real ID that they will e-mail for you to Gov. O’Malley and your chamber representatives by going to www.aclu-md.org/. Click on “Take action” and then click on “Maryland –stop Real ID in Md.” You can “google” ’email senators’ to get direct e-mail links to your state senators to ask them to repeal the act.

By the way, should you be curious about the presidential candidates; as of this writing, Obama is against Real ID. Clinton is for it with the caveat that it “needs some revision” and McCain is in favor of it.

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Posted by on March 31, 2008 in civil rights, Congress, security state