Despite failing in numerous attempts last year, some Virginia legislators are back in hopes of garnering enough votes to join the growing chorus of states that have defied the federal government by refusing to participate in a national identification program - also known as REAL ID.
The two pieces of legislation in question when lawmakers return to Richmond on Jan. 14 would call for Virginia to ignore the federal mandate to come into compliance with the Real ID Act by the beginning of next year. The looming deadline for state compliance should give the issue new urgency for not just Virginia, but for dozens of others that have yet to take a stand.
Making the issue - and how it all will play out - all the more unknown is the incoming Obama administration and his Secretary of Homeland Security Gov. Janet Napolitano. I say this because, as I have mentioned in previous posts here, we know very little about where Obama stands on REAL ID, or what he intends to do about this beleaguered, privacy invasive program. Further, Gov. Janet Napolitano has a VERY spotty record on the issue of privacy, yet she did oppose REAL ID as the Governor of Arizona (but only because it was expensive, not because it invaded privacy).
So all in all we are left with one big question mark as to how this program will or will not evolve. The good news is, if states keep refusing to comply, as Virginia is apparently going to attempt to do again, we'll be in good shape.
Since the law's enactment in 2005, at least 42 states have considered anti-Real ID legislation, and more than half have passed measures either forbidding their states from participating or urging Congress to amend or repeal the law. At least five states have gone the other direction, passing bills bringing their programs into compliance. Critics say they expect other states to join Virginia in 2009 to fight against Real ID.
States had until May of 2008 to implement Real ID, but the department extended that until Dec. 31, 2009. If they need more time and have met certain benchmarks, states can request an extension until May 11, 2011.
"The bottom line is that citizens of states who do not move forward with the Real ID mandate from Congress will see real consequences," said Laura Keehner, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, which is in charge of the program.
Critics also claim Real ID diminishes privacy and they object to a national ID that would have to be shown for everyday identification purposes.
"Certainly people should be identified by high standards when that's called for, but it's not called for when you're going to buy beer," said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "If we're going to have our identity recorded every time we buy beer or use a credit card or buy gas, that turns into one big surveillance system," he said.
One quick remark on the "politics" of this issue. The good news when it comes to the issue of privacy - and I can say this through direct experience on issues ranging from RFID to the sharing of prescription medical records - is the growing coalition that unites both the conservative side of the spectrum with the progressive.
In some ways it appears it's the "middle" of the ideological spectrum that is most absent in this all important debate. But, the fire and passion most definitely is found in the opposing "base's of support", and they (we) agree on something: privacy is a constitutional right.