Thursday, January 17, 2008

State's Differ on Real ID

Even though the Department of Homeland Security (nothing Orwellian about that name!) announced the postponement of the REAL ID Act for a few more years, we're still seeing more and more state's voice opposition to the program. Unfortunately however, not all of them.

Maryland for instance, came out yesterday in support of the program, one of a growing number that are folding like lawn chairs to government demands. Why you ask? Well, it appears the driving force behind the turnaround is the issue of illegal immigration.

The Baltimore Sun Reports:

Bowing to federal pressure to crack down on undocumented immigrants, the O'Malley administration announced Tuesday that in two years it would begin requiring all driver's license applicants to present a birth certificate, passport or some other documentation to prove they are legal residents of the United States.


...state officials made it clear they were complying reluctantly. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Gov. Martin O'Malley called REAL ID bad policy but said he had agreed to go along to prevent Maryland from becoming a magnet for those unable to get licenses elsewhere.


"Our citizens, quite frankly, are going to be shocked by what is going to be required, such as finding an original of a birth certificate," he said. Predicting "major degradations of service" at the MVA, he added: "If you wait until the day before your birthday to walk in and renew your license, you will not walk out with a new license."

Though Congress passed the REAL ID law in 2005, Maryland officials say they have been waiting to see exactly what would be required of states to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses. Final regulations, 284 pages of them, were announced Friday.The law takes effect later this year, but it allows states to delay compliance until 2010. Maryland has already been granted that extension.


Cindy Boersma, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, called the administration's announcement "very disappointing." She noted that almost half the states have objected in some fashion to the requirements of the REAL ID law, which she contends could expose the public to increased risks of identity theft. The law requires states to maintain extensive databases of private information on all its residents, and to share that with other states' licensing agencies as well as the federal government, she said.

"There are signs that this mandate is in retreat," Boersma said, noting that bills have been introduced in Congress to repeal the law.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Montana on the other hand, is taking a diametrically opposite stance. Their Senator, Jon Tester, called the Act a "textbook Washington boondoggle", both chambers of the Montana state legislature voted against it, and Gov. Brian Schweitzer, after being asked whether Montana would comply said: "No, nope, no way, hell no." And the Great Falls Tribune wrote this scathing editorial yesterday lambasting "REAL ID":

The editorial begins by calling the Act an "unfunded mandate that infringes on citizen privacy and state sovereignty, with little guarantee of success."

And it continues:

Beginning in May, residents of states that refused to participate in REAL ID may have to undergo extra screenings to fly or visit a federal courtroom. Although states can file for an extension, Montana law may not allow it.

"What they're forcing is a showdown," said Scott Crichton with the Montana ACLU. "It's a states' rights confrontation really."

REAL ID would create federal standards for issuing driver's licenses, "something that has historically been within the rights of states to decide," said Matt Sundeen, with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. What's more, states would have to pay for it.


Long term, the real trouble with REAL ID is its similarity to a national ID card. Although licenses will look different from state to state, they will be linked by a national database. That could create an unprecedented ability to track — and limit — people's movements, amounting to what critics call an "internal passport."

It also would create a target for identity thieves, say Tester and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. Weighed against all those negatives, there's no guarantee that REAL ID will stop terrorists. Creating a foolproof, large-scale ID system is exceedingly difficult, experts say. And there's nothing to say a legitimate ID holder can't be a terrorist. The fight is not over.

Baucus and Tester are co-sponsors of the Identification Security Enhancement Act, a bipartisan bill that repeals REAL ID and gives states more flexibility in fighting terrorism.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

So there you have it, a disappointing capitulation to DHS by Maryland, and a textbook defense of it's citizens right to privacy coming out of the state of Montana. Most importantly to know for all of us that believe the constitution trumps government proclamations and programs that they say will "protect us", is the fact that a bill has been presented that repeals Real ID once and for all. So everyone keep an eye on the Identification Security Enhancement Act, and when the time comes, all our legislators will need to hear from us.

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