Tag: national id

You Can Say it All You Want

…but that doesn’t make it true.

One of the laws recently signed by the president, which Congress quietly passed before leaving town to campaign, was Public Law 112-176. Among other things, it extended the authorization the national background check system, E-Verify.

A line tacked on to the end of the law speaks to an issue with E-Verify:

Nothing in this Act may be construed to authorize the planning, testing, piloting, or development of a national identification card.

Well, you can say it all you want, but that doesn’t make it true.

Maybe Congress is playing a little trick, saying “no national ID card,” knowing that E-Verify is a cardless national ID system.

Defund REAL ID

Lots of other stories have dominated the headlines lately, so people have paid little attention to news that House and Senate leaders have settled on a plan to fund the government for the first half of fiscal 2013 through a continuing resolution.

Senator Reid’s press release states that the agreement “will avoid a government shutdown while funding the government at $1.047 trillion.” If only that were true. The president’s most recent budget estimates that federal outlays will be something more like $3.8 trillion.

Whatever the case on the total figures, this is a good time to be asking just what will be in that six-month extension of government funding. And I’m particularly interested in whether it will continue to fund our national ID law, the REAL ID Act.

Not being a dialed-in appropriations lobbyist, all I have to go on are the proposals for Department of Homeland Security spending that the House and Senate have put together. Those proposals are H.R. 5855, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2013, and S. 3216, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2013. Both bills spend about $450 per U.S. family on the operations of the DHS.

Poring through the bills and committee reports, I find REAL ID funding in a pot of over $1.7 billion administered by FEMA in its “State Homeland Security Grant Program.” The House Appropriations Committee says the money should be divided among many different programs “according to threat, vulnerability, and consequence, at the discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security.” Considering what little REAL ID does for security, the Secretary could zero out REAL ID. But this is unlikely to happen.

I find no mention of REAL ID in the Senate bill, though there is a similar pot of money that I assume might fund REAL ID implementation in the states. Precious dollars that local bureaucrats feel utterly obligated to chase after.

With REAL ID funding becoming an also-ran in the world of homeland security grants, its long, slow decline continues. But I have no capacity to calculate the amounts going to REAL ID implementation. That’s nicely hidden in the opacity and arcana of federal government grant-making.

Were I asked what to put in the upcoming continuing resolution, I would simplify things dramatically. I would recommend that REAL ID be stripped from the “State Homeland Security Grant Program.” Zeroed out. Nada. Nothing. In fact, I would add REAL ID to the cluster of Provided’s and Provided further’s that make appropriations bills so hard to read:

Provided further, that no funds shall be used to implement section 204 of the REAL ID Act of 2005 (49 U.S.C. 30301 note).

The country rejects having a national ID. The government is under tight budgetary constraints. The policy that kills two birds with one stone is to entirely defund the national ID law, barring any federal expenditures on its implementation. If Congress can’t see fit to repeal the law, the DHS can issue another blanket extension early next year when a new faux implementation deadline for the national ID law arrives.

New Hampshire Says No to National ID

New Hampshire has been a bellwether state in national ID debates before. I wrote about its push-back against the E-Verify federal background check system in a recent post entitled “Cardless National ID and the E-Verify Rebellion.”

The bill that was the subject of that post, HB 1549 by Rep. Seth Cohn (R-Merrimack 6), has now passed the Senate, and it is on its way to Governor John Lynch’s desk for his signature.

It is pared down from its original version, but it now makes clear that state driver’s license records cannot be used in a national identification system. That is what E-Verify is rapidly becoming, and New Hampshire has rapidly said “No.”

‘How an E-Verify Requirement Can Help’

I know little about a House Judiciary Committee hearing tomorrow on E-Verify, but the title of it has a peculiar odor: “Document Fraud in Employment Authorization: How an E-Verify Requirement Can Help.”

You see, the immigration policies Congress has set are the source of the problem. Document fraud is made more likely by employment authorization requirements meant to enforce them, which are also—let’s remember—intrusive and costly business regulation.

In my Cato Policy Analysis “Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification: Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration,” I wrote about restrictive immigration policies and the intrusive “internal enforcement” programs they have spawned. In a section titled “Counterattacks and Complications,” I examined how workers and employers will collude to avoid and frustrate worker verification. Mandatory E-Verify will increase identity and document fraud because it makes these frauds profitable. Trying to solve this problem, the government will naturally gravitate toward more powerful identity systems, including biometric identity cards and tracking.

Sure enough, House Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith’s bill, the “Legal Workforce Act,” has a “pilot program” for a biometric national identity card.

When committing fraud is the pathway to productive employment, you know something is out of whack. Among the things out of whack are: too-restrictive immigration policy, internal enforcement, and E-Verify. This is supposed to be a free country where willingness and ability are the keys to employment.

Will Pennsylvania Join the REAL ID Rebellion?

Since Congress passed a national ID law called the REAL ID Act in 2005, states have been registering their objections. The law tries to coerce states into implementing the feds’ national ID and would have them issue uniform drivers’ licenses and put drivers’ personal information into a federal data exchange. By 2009, fully half the states had barred themselves from implementing REAL ID or passed resolutions denouncing the law.

The states continue to play their constitutional role in counterbalancing federal overreach. I noted a few weeks ago how New Hampshire is resisting E-Verify, the federal background check system. But—as I also recently wrote—federal “bureaucrats and big-governmenters” are working to revive their national ID.

Pennsylvania may soon join the REAL ID rebellion. The legislature there has sent Governor Tom Corbett (R) a bill to opt the state out of REAL ID’s national ID system.

As we often see, though, there is confusion about the relevance of IDs and a national ID to national security. In the story linked above, state representative Greg Vitali (D) is cited saying that the 9-11 hijackers were carrying multiple phony drivers’ licenses. “And I’m just concerned with regard to the message that we send by backing away from more secure IDs,” he says.

Representative Vitali is mistaken on the facts. The 9/11 hijackers did not have false identification documents. The 9/11 Commission report said: “All but one of the 9/11 hijackers acquired some form of U.S. identification document, some by fraud.” Those “frauds” were things like fibbing about the length of their residency in Virginia, not their names.

The security issues are complicated. I dealt with them in my book, Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood. But here’s what it boils down to: Had REAL ID been the law prior to 9/11 and operating perfectly—100% compliance, no corruption at DMVs, and no forgery of breeder documents or licenses—that might have required the 9/11 attackers to keep their visas current. That’s the extent of its security value.

How many hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars should we spend, how much of Americans’ privacy should we give up, and how much power should we transfer to the federal government when the only benefit is to mildly inconvenience some future attacker?

Many of the threats we imagined in the years after 9/11 were not real. Sleeper cells? Osama bin Laden sleeps with the fishes.

Terrorism didn’t get its start on 9/11, and it will never be non-existent. But our strong nation can celebrate its victory over terrorism by deep-sixing the national ID card. That’s the “message” that would come from defeating the federal government’s national ID law.

National Surveillance Programs and Their State Impediments

Having originally come to Washington to defend federalism, I am always delighted to see the division of powers among the states and the federal government have its proper effect: to protect liberty and limited government.

As with REAL ID, the E-Verify federal background check system is meeting up with state resistance. The Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire reported yesterday:

This afternoon, the House passed HB 1549, which would prohibit the state’s participation in the E-Verify system, with a nearly unanimous voice vote. The House also killed HB 1492, which would require employers to verify an employee’s eligibility to work in the United States using the E-Verify System, with a 226-59 vote.

E-Verify is essentially a national identification system that requires employers to verify all job applicants’ citizenship in a national database system before they can employ them. If the state agreed to participate, all citizens would have to be listed in this national database as a U.S. citizen in order to get a job.

You want to fix immigration, feds? You do it without putting American citizens into a national ID system. Good message.

Here’s the clear language of HB 1549, which the New Hampshire House has approved to govern release of motor vehicle records. It embraces legitimate law enforcement while rejecting national identification schemes.

III. Motor vehicle records may be made available pursuant to a court order or in response to a request from a state, a political subdivision of a state, the federal government, or a law enforcement agency for use in official business. The request shall be on a case-by-case basis. Any records received pursuant to this paragraph shall not be further transferred or otherwise made available to any other person or listed entity not authorized under this paragraph. No records made available under this section shall be used, directly or indirectly, for any federal identification database. (New language in bold.)

To learn more about E-Verify and its role as a nascent national identification scheme, read my Cato Policy Analysis: “Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification: Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”

The REAL ID Fight Continues in the States

Federal programs almost never die. Bureaucrats and their big-government allies are still trying to cobble together an American national ID.

But leaders in the states continue to fight. In this case, it’s Michigan state representative and House transportation committee chairman Paul Opsommer (R-DeWitt). In response to a recent report citing state compliance with REAL ID “benchmarks,” he’s put out a scathing report that was written up in the River Country (MI) Journal.

“The things we have done in Michigan, like making sure illegal aliens cannot get driver’s licenses, we are doing independently of REAL ID, and we are not interested in allowing the federal government to have permanent control over our licenses,” said Opsommer. “You can bet your bottom dollar that at some point if Obamacare is not repealed that the federal government will adopt new rules in the future requiring the cards’ use for access to healthcare. You can bet they will require it to buy a firearm. You can bet they ultimately want to put RFID chips into all these and share our full data with Canada, Mexico, and beyond. If we don’t repeal Title II of the REAL ID Act, all we are doing is putting off the ‘I told you so’ moment for a few years down the road.”

The tensions that the Framers of the Constitution designed into our governmental structure are doing their work through Rep. Opsommer.

“State documents should be state documents, and federal documents should be federal documents,” he says.

“If the federal government is bent on having a national ID card, they need to get their own house in order and start to make federal passports more secure and more affordable. Quit trying to outsource your own mismanagement of the federal passport system onto the states and let us get onto the business of issuing our own safe and secure sovereign driver’s licenses.”

The bureaucrats will keep at it at least until the Congress defunds REAL ID. But they’ll keep bumping into the likes or Rep. Paul Opsommer.