Tag: real id

The New—-Cardless!—-National ID

Your chance to comment on a Department of Homeland Security plan to tap into state drivers’ license databases and create a new national ID system expires next week. It’s the groundwork for a cardless national ID, which threatens liberty even more than card-based schemes like REAL ID.

The E-Verify program’s move to merge federal background checks and state driver license data sets the stage for satisfying all three elements of a national ID. (Two years ago, I discussed what constitutes a national ID in some detail.) E-Verify has not satisfied these criteria up to now, but the pieces are coming together quickly.

First, it is national. That is, it is intended to be used throughout the country, and to be nationally uniform in its key elements. If its proponents have their way, E-Verify will indeed soon go national, a requirement on every employer to vet new workers past the federal government’s databases.

Second, its use is either practically or legally required. This is a judgment call, but in two diferent ways, E-Verify appears to meet this element. First, not having data in the E-Verify databases means not having legal work, so “participation” in E-Verify can be fairly called practically required. Second, try to opt out of the system and you will meet a dead end. The program includes no opportunity I know of to refuse participation. It’s legally required if the state or federal governments have got your identity data.

I could be wrong, of course. Interested researchers should try contacting their state motor vehicle bureaus (cc: your state legislators) and ask not to have data about you transferred to the federal government for E-Verify. Please let me know what you learn.

The final “element” of a national ID is that it is used for identification. Up to now, E-Verify has  largely worked by comparing identifiers. (I.e., Does this name match this Social Security number?) The current plan is to tap into state databases for more identifiers: name, date of birth, driver’s license/permit number, and so on. From there, it’s a short ride to gathering drivers’ license photos and biometric descriptors. (E-Verify already uses federally acquired photos in its “Photo Screening Tool.”) With the inclusion of your driver’s license photo, the E-Verify system will be able to display your picture on the screen of anyone who looks you up, allowing for positive identification.

This is a national identification system. If every employer has to use E-Verify—or even every major employer—it will become the all-purpose security device, used for cashing checks, confirming the name on credit cards, and looking you up at the prescription counter. Of course, it will be used at airport checkpoints. You’ll be screened through E-Verify at entrances to government buildings—maybe private buildings, too. And why not for random, “instant” checks at the subway or bus station? 

Just remember: If you have a tax dispute with the government, the Department of Homeland Security might flag you in the database—or it might de-identify you entirely—until you get right with the government.

Because it’s a database system, you won’t be able to argue your case like you can in the familiar card environment. With a card, at least, you can say, “No, look. This is me. This is my ID card. This is my picture. Give me my prescription.” With E-Verify, the answer will be, “Sorry, you have to talk to DHS or Social Security.” For good reason, I named my paper on electronic employment eligibility verification, “Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”

Arguments for the E-Verify system sounding in practicality and common sense do not hold up, but there are also principled reasons to oppose having a government background check system. Using E-Verify, the Department of Homeland Security is rapidly assembling a national ID system that can be converted to boundless uses. In addition to controlling employment, E-Verify can be put to use in regulating access to health care and housing, in gun control and registration, in monitoring travel and lodging—the list goes on and on.

I went through the arguments against having a national identification system in my book, Identity Crisis. In brief, a national ID would strip us of privacy even faster than is already happening, producing formal dossiers and increased surveillance. A national ID would transfer power en masse from individuals to governments. They would administer our rights by controlling the tools we need to navigate a “papers, please” society. A national ID would also be insecure, as it centralizes and homogenizes information assets (identity data) that are more secure if widely dispersed and heterogeneous.

As I noted last week, the federal government cannot and will not implement the REAL ID Act. So it’s on a new tack: E-Verify will soon be the new national ID.

State Officials Needn’t Heed Feds’ Threats

Federal officials blitzed Texas this week to fight a bill pending in Austin that would control TSA groping of air travelers in that state, reports Forbes’ “Not-So-Private Parts” blogger Kashmir Hill.

Federal government officials descended on the Capitol to hand out a letter … from the Texas U.S. Attorney letting senators know that if they passed the bill, the TSA would probably have to cancel all flights out of Texas. As much as they love their state, the idea of shutting down airports and trapping people in Texas was scary enough to get legislators to reconsider their support for the groping bill…

The federal government’s threat to shut down air travel is serious, but empty. As we’ve seen time and again with the REAL ID Act, the federal government does not have the political will to attack passenger air travel in the name of increasing surveillance and intrusion.

In fact, earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security didn’t even bother to threaten any repurcussions for states before it once again pushed back a May 2011 (false) deadline for REAL ID compliance. (Previous instances noted here and here.) The REAL ID Act allows the federal government to refuse licenses and ID cards from non-complying states at airport checkpoints, but it’s just not going to happen.

The DHS announcement notes $175 million in spending on REAL ID so far. That waste continues to accrue so long as Congress appropriates money for the national ID program, which will never be implemented.

While we’re on the subject of empty threats from federal officials—and do see Julian Sanchez’s post hitting the same subject—it has been more than four years since then-Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said about the REAL ID Act:

If we don’t get it done now, someone is going to be sitting around in three or four years explaining to the next 9/11 Commission why we didn’t do it.

Secretary Chertoff was wrong—factually wrong on the imminence and nature of the terror threat, and ethically wrong to tout terror threats in an attempt to defeat the will of our free people.

With our stubborn insistence on freedom, the American people and state leaders have done a better job of assessing the threat environment than the Secretary of Homeland Security. As I said when I testified on this topic to the Pennsylvania legislature, state leaders should continue to recognize that they are as equipped, if not better equipped, than federal officials to judge what is right for their people. Counterterrorism and airport security are not an exception to that, though federal imperiousness in these areas remains at a high.

REAL ID: An Afterthought, Tacked On

Yesterday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee had a hearing entitled: “Ten Years After 9/11: A Report From the 9/11 Commission Chairmen,” part of what evidently will be a series commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this September.

At the end of his oral statement, former 9/11 Commission co-chairman Tom Keane made a half-hearted pitch for implementation of the REAL ID Act, the national ID law Congress passed attached to a military spending bill in early 2005. His written statement with fellow former co-chair Lee Hamilton dedicates three paragraphs (out of 23 pages) to the appeal for the national ID law.

The paltriness of Keane’s argument for a national ID parallels the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission report. It dedicated three-quarters of a page (out of 400+ pages) to identity documents. The 9/11 Commission report did not detail how a national ID would have secured against 9/11 in any way that is remotely cost-effective. Indeed, nobody ever has, much less how having a national ID would secure against future attacks.

In his testimony, Governor Keane touted the expertise of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group, with which he is affiliated. Given all that expertise and the supposed urgency of implementing the national ID law, you would think that the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Web site would have a definitive articulation of how REAL ID would secure the country. It doesn’t.

At the time it was rammed through Congress, Senator Lieberman (I-CT) spoke out against REAL ID on the Senate floor:

I urge my colleagues to oppose the REAL ID Act. We must ask our Senate conferees not to allow such a controversial measure to be pushed through Congress on an emergency spending bill. The REAL ID Act contradicts our historic identity as a nation that provides haven for the oppressed. The REAL ID Act would not make us safer. It would make us less safe.

If the 9/11 Commission co-chairs, the Bipartisan Policy Center, or any other set of advocates want to go to battle over REAL ID, they should make their best case for having this national ID. Tell us how it would work, and how it would defeat the counterattacks and complications of national-scale identity systems. Anyone attempting to do so can expect a schooling from yours truly, of course. The alternative, which I recommend, is to drop the national ID advocacy and work on things that cost-effectively secure the country without sacrificing our freedom and privacy.

Does Rep. Aderholt Support or Oppose Having a National ID?

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) is the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. That’s the subcommittee that makes spending decisions for the Department of Homeland Security and the programs within it, including the REAL ID Act.

Earlier this month, a constituent of his from Fyffe, Alabama posted a question on Mr. Aderholt’s Facebook page:

Rep. Aderholt, I’ve seen reports that the “REAL ID ACT” will be implemented in May of this year, giving the govt the ability to track every person who has a drivers license via encoded GPS. Is this actually the case and if so, what is the House going to do to stop this Orwellian infringement of our Liberty. Also, HOW could this have happened in the first place!

Mr. Aderholt has not replied.

But Right Side News recently reported on a hearing in which DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano presented her agency’s budget request. The DHS has not requested funds for implementing REAL ID. But according to the report, Chairman Aderholt “pointedly reminded” the committee of the need for funding of REAL ID.

It is good of Representative Aderholt to give his constituents a means to contact him and to invite public discussion of the issues. It’s an open question whether he will listen more closely to the voice of his constituents or to influences in Washington, D.C. who would like to see law-abiding American citizens herded into a national ID system.

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.

Terror Arrest Does Not Justify REAL ID Revival

The zeitgeist on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. may be for limited, constitutional government, but that doesn’t mean that big-government conservatives aren’t going to use the reprieve voters gave Republicans in the fall to once again advance big-government goals. On Monday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano encouraging her to fully implement our national ID law, the REAL ID Act of 2005.

The deadline for state implementation of the national ID law lapsed nearly three years ago. Half the states in the country have affirmatively barred themselves from implementing REAL ID or they have passed resolutions objecting to the national ID law. But the Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly extended the deadline and reduced the compliance bar to suggest progress on the flagging national ID effort. With another faux implementation deadline looming in May, the DHS is almost certain to issue a blanket extension of the compliance deadline again soon.

Smith, King, and Sensenbrenner don’t want that to happen. They cite the arrest of Khalid Aldawsari in Texas as a reason for “immediate implementation of REAL ID.” 

According to the government’s affidavit, Aldawsari planned to acquire a false birth certificate and multiple false drivers licenses, assumedly to assist in his getaway after executing his formative bombing plans. But if you read the affidavit, you can see just how remote and speculative his use of any false identification is compared to the real acts that go into his plans. 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. Aldawsari was nowhere near slipping through the net, and having a false driver’s license would have made no difference after a North Carolina chemical supply company reported to the FBI his suspicious attempt to purchase the chemical phenol. Nor would false identification have made a difference had he succeeded in an attack of any significance.

Having a national ID is the fantastical way of addressing the fantastical part of Aldawsari’s alleged plot. Thankfully, the real plot was disrupted using real law enforcement techniques, which include the reporting of suspicious behavior and narrowly targeted, lawful surveillance.

House Debates Spending—-and REAL ID Is on the Chopping Block

It’s a good thing for Congress to have an open debate on the bill that would fund the government from March 4th through the September 30 end of the 2011 fiscal year. The alternative is for the bill to be written and the political log-rolling to be done entirely behind the scenes. Open debate of the bill and amendments requires at least some level of discussion about various projects and programs rather than spending decisions being based solely on raw political power. And it gives the public some chance to have a say.

The debate may include an amendment to strip funding from the REAL ID Act, our deplorable national ID law. As I wrote here before, 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 ultimately REAL ID should be repealed once and for all.

Amendment #277 (find it on this page, scroll down…) would add the following language to the FY 2011 spending bill:

None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for the implementation of the REAL ID Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-13).

Congratulations are due to David Price (D-NC) for highlighting this issue. A national ID would not provide security gains that come anywhere close to the costs of creating a national ID and living under a national ID system. People who desire a national ID for immigration control conveniently forget or omit that natural-born citizens would be required to have and carry a national ID while illegal immigrants work various ways to defeat any of the utterly porous “internal enforcement” systems that restrictive immigration policies have made plausible. A national ID would be used not just to control access to working, but to housing, health care, financial services, and more. In short, it would make the country less free.

I’ll report here what happens with this amendment and the debate on it, which is a debate worth having.