Tag: national id

Is the REAL ID Rebellion Coming to Florida?

Until now, Florida has not been one of the states to buck the federal government’s national ID mandate, established in the REAL ID Act of 2005. A pair of grand jury reports in 2002 had moved the state to tighten its driver licensing processes prior to any federal action, so it was already doing many of the things that the Department of Homeland Security is now seeking to require of states in the name of REAL ID.

Full compliance with REAL ID remains a distant hope, so DHS has set out a list of 18 “milestones,” progress toward which it is treating as REAL ID compliance. Full compliance with REAL ID includes putting driver information into a network for nationwide information sharing—including scanned copies of basic identity documents. It includes giving all licensees and ID holders a nationally uniform driver’s license or ID card so their identity can be checked at airports, federal facilities, and wherever the Secretary of Homeland Security determines to have federal checkpoints.

Again, the state of Florida meets DHS’ milestones. Starting from an already strict driver licensing regime, the state’s bureaucrats have been doing (and asking the legislature to do) things that match up with the requirements of the national ID law. But now, thanks to the work of Florida’s Tenth Amendment Center, Floridians Against REAL ID, and others, the legislature is beginning to pay attention.

Why is it so hard for law-abiding citizens and residents of Florida to get or renew their licenses? What kinds of barriers to progress are being thrown in front of lawful immigrants from Haiti, who haven’t the documentation required to get a license and thus a job?

Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando) has lived in Florida since 1955 and was elected to the Florida legislature in 2006. She was born in New Orleans and is not able to get a copy of her birth certificate. The Florida Department of Motor Vehicles would not accept her Florida House ID card as proof of her identity!

Several members of the Florida legislature are concerned that the state is scanning and databasing the basic identity documents of Floridians, exposing those documents and the people of Florida to unknown cybersecurity risks. If these databases were hacked, Floridians’ data would be treasure trove for identity fraud. A breach of an entire state’s identity data could collapse the system we now rely on to know who people are. This is not an improvement in security for Floridians.

Florida’s Cuban ex-pat population has some idea of what could result if they were herded into a national identity system. They are too familiar with central government control of access to goods, services, employment, and other essentials of life. Advocates of national ID systems here in the United States have already argued for using REAL ID to control access to employment, to financial services and credit, to medicines, to housing, and more.

In my testimony to the Florida legislature, I noted that the federal government is impotent to enforce REAL ID. The political costs of a DHS attack on air travel (if it refused to recognize drivers’ licenses from non-compliant states at airport checkpoints) would be too high. Indeed, word is spreading that DHS will soon extend the REAL ID deadline once again.

What’s clear from my visit to Florida is that legislators there respond to what they hear from their constituents. It’s unclear what the Florida legislature will do to reassert control of its driver licensing policy from the concerted action of the federal government and its motor vehicle bureaucrats.

One of the questions they might ask is, “Who committed Florida to comply with REAL ID?” That’s item number seventeen in the DHS’ eighteen-point material compliance checklist.

REAL ID Is Still Dead, But It Is Walking Dead

The cost and ease of implementing REAL ID are not shown by a new report from the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies.

Nor does it establish why law-abiding American citizens should be required to carry a national ID. But the report is a good signal that the national ID effort continues. A coterie of national ID advocates are working with state motor vehicle bureaucrats to build a national ID. This is why repeal and defunding of REAL ID is so needed.

It’s been a while, so let’s review: REAL ID is the national ID law Congress passed in May of 2005. It gave states a three-year deadline to produce IDs meeting national standards and to network their databases of driver information together into a national ID system. In regulations it proposed in March 2007, the Department of Homeland Security extended that draconian deadline. States would have five years, starting in May 2008, to move all driver’s license and ID card holders into REAL ID-compliant cards.

At the time, DHS estimated the costs for this project at $17.2 billion dollars (net present value, 7% discount). Costs to individuals came it at nearly $6 billion—mostly in wasted time. The bulk of the costs fell on state governments, though: nearly $11 billion dollars.

To drive down the cost estimate, DHS pushed the implementation schedule way back. In its final rule of January 2008, it allowed states a deadline extension to December 31, 2009 just for the asking, and a second extension to May 2011 for meeting eighteen “benchmarks”—many of them things states were already doing or would have done anyway: taking pictures of license applicants, having them sign their applications, documenting their dates of birth, maintaining fraudulent document training programs, and so on.

Then states would have until the end of 2017 to replace all cards with the national ID card—just under ten years. DHS assumed that only 75% of people would actually get the national ID to drive the cost estimate down even further.

The Center for Immigration Studies report, authored by national ID lobbyist Janice Kephart, ratchets back even further on what ”implementation” means to argue that REAL ID is a cost-effective success.

States like Maryland and Delaware, once committed, have completed implementation of the 18 benchmarks within a year for only twice the grant monies provided by the federal government. Extrapolated out, that puts total costs for implementing the 18 REAL ID benchmarks in a range from $350 million to $750 million, an order of magnitude less than estimated previously.

Again, these benchmarks are not the substance of REAL ID, which is uniform collection and sharing of driver information, and uniform display of driver information in the “machine-readable zone” of a national ID card. But meeting some of the benchmarks only costs twice as much money as the states don’t have to spare!

The report is an important signal, though. The national ID builders haven’t gone away, and Congress continues to fund the national ID project. DHS has allocated $176 million to building a national ID so far, and it has gaudily rattled states’ cages trying to get them to spend.

During the debate about spending for the current (2011) fiscal year, the House-passed “Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act” defunded the network for driver information sharing known as the “REAL ID hub,” and it also rescinded $16,500,000 in previously spent funds. That rescission should be included when the current Congress takes up FY 2011 spending again in March. And Congress should put a stake through the heart of the REAL ID law. The liberty-crushing national ID plan should be repealed, eliminated once and for all.

Facebook as Identity Provider

It might take Facebook awhile to turn identity provision into a revenue opportunity, but if it is a money-maker, it could be a substantial one. Simson Garfinkel has a piece in Technology Review that goes into some of the things Facebook is doing with its “Connect” service.

As security professionals debate whether the Internet needs an “identity layer”—a uniform protocol for authenticating users’ identities—a growing number of websites are voting with their code, adopting “Facebook Connect” as a way for anyone with a Facebook account to log into the site at the click of a button.

It’s a good, relatively short article, worth a read.

As an online identity provider, Facebook could facilitate secure commerce and communication in a way that’s easy and familiar for consumers. That adds value to the Internet ecosystem, and Facebook may be able to extract some of the surplus for itself—perhaps by charging sites and services that are heavy users small amounts per login via Connect. The security challenges of such a system would grow as more sites and services rely on it, of course, and Garfinkel highlights them in an accessible way—accessible as you’re going to get, anyway.

Quibbles are always more interesting, so I’ll note that I cocked my head to one side where Garfinkel asks “whether it’s a good thing for one company to hold such a position of power.” Strange.

Taking “power” in its philosophical sense to mean “a measure of an entity’s ability to control its environment, including the behavior of other entities,” Facebook Connect gives the company very little power. Separate, per-site logins—or a parallel service that might be created by Google, for example—are near at hand and easy to switch to for anyone who doesn’t like Facebook’s offering.

Ironically, Garfinkel refers to these identity services as “Internet driver’s licenses,” inviting a comparison with the power structure in the real-world licensing area. If you want to drive a car legally, there are no alternatives to dealing with the state, so the state can impose onerous conditions on licensing. Drivers’ licenses require one to share a great deal of information, they cost a lot of money (relative to Facebook’s dollar price of “free”), and switching is not an option if the issuer starts to change the bargain and enroll licensees in a national ID system. Garfinkel himself noted how drivers’ licenses enhance state power in a good 1994 Wired article.

In sum, the upsides of an identity marketplace are there, for both consumers and for Facebook. The downsides are relatively small. The “power” exercised by any provider in a marketplace for identity provision is small compared to the alternative of using states as identity providers.

ID Requirements and the Indigent

I’ve emphasized in the past that a national ID requirement—for travel, for work, whatever the case—would exclude the indigent from rungs on the ladder.

If you don’t know the story of the homeless man whose golden radio voice got him a second chance, you should.  But, as the New York Daily News reports, his long-awaited reunion with his mother has been delayed while he proves his identity so he can fly.

A land of freedom doesn’t put paperwork requirements between a man on the rebound and a long-awaited reunion with his mother.

Another Nail in REAL ID’s Coffin

The REAL ID Act—the 2005 national ID law rejected by the states asked to implement it—continues its long slow death. The latest nail in the coffin: moves in Congress to defund the “hub” system that would share driver information nationwide.

The House-passed “Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act” contains the following language in the section that funds U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services: “none of the funds made available in this section shall be available for development of the system commonly known as the ‘REAL ID hub’.”

And also: “From unobligated balances of prior year appropriations made available for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for the program commonly known as the ‘REAL ID hub’, $16,500,000 is rescinded.”

Senator Inouye’s (D-HI) amendment in the Senate also denies USCIS funding for the REAL ID hub. And it, too, rescinds $16.5 million in prior-year funding.

Money spent on REAL ID is waste. That money should be put to better uses, including deficit reduction. No future money should go to the national ID boondoggle, and REAL ID should be repealed once and for all.

State Bureaucrats Continuing to Advance REAL ID

Across the country, state legislatures have objected to, and outright rejected, the national ID and surveillance mandate imposed on them by the REAL ID Act. Passed in May 2005 with a compliance deadline three years later, the law has never been implemented. The Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly threatened to deny air travel to people from the states refusing compliance, then backed down when states have not caved to its demands.

But state legislatures are one thing. State-level bureaucrats are quite another. And they are hedgehogging along, positioning their states to implement the national ID law.

Writes Alan Greenblatt in State Legislatures magazine:

In a number of states, motor vehicle departments are doing the behind-the-scenes work necessary to move closer to compliance, including updating computer systems, installing face-recognition software and setting up more secure card production rooms… . [E]very state is moving toward compliance. Even in the 14 states where legislatures have explicitly rejected REAL ID through laws or resolutions, some moves have been made in the direction of compliance.

Politicians come and go, but the bureaucrats are in it for life. And they can grow their portfolio be building a national ID.

Yes, Illegal Immigrants Are Influenced by ID Policies

It is a premise of national identification policy that requiring proof of lawful presence to get an ID, then requiring the use of that ID for many essential functions of life, would make it more difficult to be an illegal immigrant in the United States. The natural result of having a national ID and routine identity checks would be suppression of illegal immigration. The premise is undoubtedly true.

The question is how much influence it would have on illegal immigrants’ decision whether to come to, or remain in, this country. And how much it would cause illegal immigrants to take other steps, such as avoidance of ID checks?

A recent article in the Arizona Republic illustrates that leaving the country isn’t the obvious step for illegal immigrants faced with the lawful presence requirement. “Illegal Immigrants Flocking to 3 States to Obtain Identification” tells the story of how illegal immigrant Carlos Hernandez moved his family to Washington state after the passage of S.B. 1070 in Arizona. The story is illustrated with a picture of Hernandez watching his 2-year-old daughter play on a slide near their apartment in Burien, Washington.

“Hernandez said he knows other illegal immigrants who considered New Mexico because of the ease of getting a license. But he and others thought Washington would be safer.”

One inference from the story is that states with “weak” licensing requirements should tighten things up. But would Hernandez’ young daughter have better prospects if he moved the family to Puebla, Mexico, or would she be better off living in the United States with a father who acquired a false U.S. identification? In many cases, a family man like Hernandez will take the risk of acquiring and using false ID to provide his daughter the stable environment and opportunities the United States has to offer.

A national ID system, and background checks instituted for access to work, housing, and financial services, would suppress illegal immigration some, but it would also drive greater identity fraud and corruption.

The next question is how much inconvenience and tracking the natural-born and naturalized citizens of the country should suffer in order to achieve the marginal gains of presssuring illegal immigrants this way.

On balance, the gains are not worth the costs—especially when the “gains” include making life worse for Carlos Hernandez’ young daughter.