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Real ID: DHS National ID Nightmare that Won’t Die?

Mar 08, 20114 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

The Real ID deadline was extended to Jan. 15, 2013. Real ID, which would turn your drivers license into a national ID, is like a DHS nightmare that just won't go away.

The Real ID Act was signed in 2005 as part of President Bush’s “war on terror.” Supposedly it would enhance security and create a certified federal identity which every American would need before being allowed to fly, before entering government buildings, before entering national parks, before opening a bank account, and possibly being extended into many other areas like showing it before prescription drugs could be filled. Real ID seems like a nightmare that just won’t go away and stay away forever.

Yesterday, DHS posted a notice on the Federal Register to extend the Real ID deadline to Jan. 15, 2013, by which time states’ “driver’s licenses and identification cards” will meet the “security requirements of the REAL ID Act.”

In this economy, many states can’t afford to pay for important things like teachers or extended unemployment and so on. States are too broke and the cost to implement Real ID is exorbitant. However, according to the notice, DHS has given out 150 grants equaling $175,000,000 to implement Real ID requirements. The security features that most of that money was spent on includes DMV security cameras and alarms, software upgrades like facial recognition to detect people with multiple IDs, and the use of DHS systems for alien and immigration verification.

“Diminished State budgets” are listed as one of the reasons states did not comply with Real ID, but as Declan McCullagh pointed out many states have passed anti-Real ID legislation. One of the most interesting, is Arizona because when Napolitano was governor, she signed a law to forbid Arizona from complying with the Real ID drivers license program. But now, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is tasked with getting Real ID up and running. Napolitano previously testified that “Pass ID is a fix for REAL ID.” She further admitted, “We cannot have national standards for drivers’ licenses when the states, themselves, refuse to participate.” But that was in 2009 during the push to enact Pass ID before the Dec. 31 deadline and put “states on the path to implementing national standards for identification documents and will enhance security across the country”.

REAL Nightmare has mapped out the legislation against Real ID for the years 2009 (below), 2008 and 2007.

In theory, Real ID is supposed to help combat terrorism and stop identity theft, but those seem fairly unrealistic to me. In fact, it seems like a huge, gaping, invasive wound to privacy. There are people who counterfeit cash, counterfeit documents, so I’m sure the unsavory elements would find some other way to secure a drivers license that will serve as a national ID (Real ID) if needed.

Jim Harper, on Cato Institute, wrote about how the government recently tried to use the arrest of suspected terrorist Khalid Aldawsari in Texas to justify and quickly implement the Real ID Act. After reading the “speculative” affidavit, Harper stated that even if Aldawsari used a fake drivers license, he was “nowhere near slipping through the net.” Even without the U.S. having a national ID, “you can also see the web of identifiers that law enforcement use to effectively track and surveil their targets, including phone numbers, license plates, physical addresses, immigration records, email addresses, and Internet Protocol addresses.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be reduced to a barcode kept in a national database filled with personal information that would without a doubt leak into a huge array of government surveillance activities. Aren’t we tracked more than enough as it is? Real ID smacks of the supposedly shut down national surveillance tracking that was called Total Information Awareness.

In a couple of the states that are complying with Real ID, I’ve been told those DMVs say no smiling that shows your teeth for the facial recognition photo. A temporary paper license is issued while your photo and a ton of copied paperwork which practically documents your life history are shipped off for government scrutiny. The Real ID drivers license is later mailed. If the Real ID Act is actually implemented by Jan. 15, 2013, other privacy advocates won’t need to be asked by DMV, they won’t feel like smiling.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.