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.