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July 20, 2005

Cry, beloved country

The nation's governors, at their annual meeting held recently in Des Moines, complained bitterly about the so-called Real ID act passed by Congress in May. They said it's going to cost the states hundreds of millions of dollars, reduce efficiency at drivers' license bureaus and create endless snafus for their citizens.

All true, and that's the good parts.

It's a misbegotten measure, the merits of which are discernible only to power-grabbing federal officials intent on bending, folding and stapling the rest of us. The only positive is that it doesn't go into effect until May of 2008, which provides time for us to convince our national lawmakers they need to reverse themselves despite all the people who'll be yelling ``War on Terror!'' ``9-11!!'' as the debate proceeds.

A good many congresspeople are willing -- the Real ID act probably wouldn't have made it into law as a stand-alone but the ancient legislative tactic of tacking a bad idea onto a must-pass bill was employed by its backers. (In this case, the vehicle was a bill providing some $80 billion for the war in Iraq and benefits for soldiers. The Senate version didn't include the Real ID act; that was added as Title II in conference committee.)

The law requires people to provide additional layers of identification when they obtain or renew a driver's license; it requires the states to put all that information into a database that is accessible by all other states and the federal government; it requires the resulting license or ID card to be "machine readable" and says that anyone without one of those machine-readable cards can't get into a federal building, onto an airplane or avail themselves of any number of federal government services.

The bill also gives the diretor of the Department of Homeland Security unprecedented power to determine what information the license/ID cards must contain and what the machine-readable format will be.

Scared yet? The bill also empowers the DHS director in some instances to waive the provisions of the law, solely at his own discretion; and exempts portions of it from judicial review.

Ron Paul, the arch-conservative representative from Texas who occasionally gets it right, was so upset about the Real ID provisions that he joined the tiny handful of lawmakers who voted against the military appropriations bill because of it.

"The legislation also grants open-ended authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security to require biometric information on IDs in the future. This means your harmless looking driver's license could contain a retina scan, fingerprints, DNA information, or radio frequency technology," he warned.

Radio frequency technology, or RFID, in case you don't know, permits remote Reading of encoded information. It's not new; more and more retailers are using it instead of bar codes to track inventory and whatever else they feel like. People put RFID chips in their dogs.

Though the government has claimned "remote" equals a few inches, the geeks have demonstrated that the info can be read from dozens of feet away. Some say hundreds of feet.

In short, anyone smarter than a brick and armed with readily available gadgets will be able to lift information off your driver's license/ID card as you walk down the street. Not to worry though, Real ID's backers are insisting it's going to prevent ID theft, not make it easier.

Since Real IDs in effect will be the national ID cards Americans have long fought against, they'll also be used routinely as IDs at all kinds of retailers, who of course will save the data, minipulate it for marketing purposes and sell it to each other.

And you know how secure that information is. Or are you one of the five people left in the country who hasn't had a credit card or ATM card revoked and replaced because the "secure" information was stolen or otherwise compromised somewhere out in data processing land?

Cry, beloved country.

Posted by jcb at July 20, 2005 03:55 PM


And give us an indefinite extension of the Patriot Act. Government forever!!!

Posted by: toby at July 22, 2005 01:52 PM