Monday, June 15, 2009

Obama Administration to Scale Back Real ID Law

The Obama Administration has now finally taken a concrete stand (against) on the beleaguered, privacy invasive program known as the REAL ID Act. As I've been repeating on this blog over and over, little was known about how Obama was going to proceed on this issue, which was made all the more mysterious after he chose Gov. Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security.

The reason being of course that Napolitano had a VERY spotty record on the issue of privacy while Governor of Arizona, and while she did oppose REAL ID, she only did so because of her belief that it was too expensive and burdensome for the states to implement. So the big question in my mind has been whether the Administration would continue the REAL ID program, and if so, in what form, and if not, for what reasons?

The good news is - as reported in the Washington Post- that the Administration doesn't appear to be interested in continuing the program. On the other hand, it doesn't seem willing to simply abolish it altogether either (as privacy advocates would like to see).

Before I get to the article, let me give you a quick refresher course on the Act and the state revolt that it inspired. The Real ID Act was approved by Congress - underhandedly as a rider I might add - and then signed into law by President Bush in 2005 as part of the government's effort to combat terrorism.

At the time, few lawmakers even knew what they were voting for, or necessarily supported the concept to begin with. Since that time the law has evoked widespread criticism from privacy advocates and civil rights groups, which say it would create a de facto national identity card system that would be hard to manage and even harder to secure. The law requires states to issue new licenses which are supposed to screen potential terrorists and identify illegal immigrants.

This new federal identity document would be required of every American in order to fly on commercial airlines, enter government buildings, open a bank account, and more.

The common reaction from citizens and states across the country has centered on the threat it would pose to individual privacy, the high costs states would incur to implement it, the increased danger of identity theft, and the possible loss of freedoms due to expanded government power. For everything that's wrong with the REAL ID Act, check out the REAL NIGHTMARE site.

The Washington Post Reports on the latest developments:

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wants to repeal and replace the controversial, $4 billion domestic security initiative known as Real ID, which calls for placing more secure licenses in the hands of 245 million Americans by 2017. The new proposal, called Pass ID, would be cheaper, less rigorous and partly funded by federal grants, according to draft legislation that Napolitano's Senate allies plan to introduce as early as tomorrow.

The new plan keeps elements of Real ID, such as requiring a digital photograph, signature and machine-readable features such as a bar code. States also will still need to verify applicants' identities and legal status by checking federal immigration, Social Security and State Department databases.

But it eliminates demands for new databases -- linked through a national data hub -- that would allow all states to store and cross-check such information, and a requirement that motor vehicle departments verify birth certificates with originating agencies, a bid to fight identity theft.

Instead, it adds stronger privacy controls and limits such development to a pilot program in Mississippi. DHS would have nine months to write new regulations, and states would have five years to reissue all licenses, with completion expected in 2016.


Pass ID also penalizes states that have spent millions to digitize their records, rewards laggards with federal funds and makes new requirements unenforceable, foes said. For example, the new bill kills provisions that would have required the new IDs to board airplanes and that IDs that did not comply with the requirements feature a different color or design.

Meanwhile, privacy groups also objected, saying Real ID should just be killed. "We don't want to end up with National ID Lite," said Chris Calabrese, counsel to the technology and liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the plan is "a lot softer" but will still leave more Americans' personal data subject to theft and misuse. Sens. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), the bill's sponsors, are seeking support from Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (Maine), the chairman and ranking Republican, respectively, on the Senate homeland security committee, and other centrist lawmakers. So far, no other Republicans have signed on.

So the "centrist theme" of the Obama Administration continues. In this case, while I'm relieved that the REAL ID Act - as once conceived at least - is finally dead, I'm once again disappointed in the Administration's reluctance to take a stronger stance in defense of the principle of privacy as well as its rather weak opposition (or worse...outright support of) to a host of Bush Administration policies that were privacy invasive at the least, and blatantly un-Constitutional (wiretapping being another example) at the worst.Italic

I will have more to say on this "Pass ID" concept floated by the Administration once I get more information and consult some of my "go to" experts. Personally, I think the most welcomed aspect of this announcement is that the REAL ID proposal to create one super database - linked through a national data hub - has been scrapped.

But more on this coming soon...

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