Commentary

NH Can Set a National Example by Opposing a Federal ID Card

This article appeared in the Union Leader on April 5, 2006.

One way or another, New Hampshire will soon again lead the nation. It may set the standard for protection of freedom, civil liberties and privacy. Or it may become a premier example of how a state legislature turns into a servant of the federal government.

On the side of freedom is the state House of Representatives. In March it passed a bill prohibiting the New Hampshire government from participating in the U.S. national ID card system.

The REAL ID Act is a federal law that blackmails states into producing federally approved driver’s licenses and identification cards. If a state is not participating in REAL ID by 2008, the federal government threatens to bar its citizens from air travel, entry to courthouses and other areas and activities controlled by federal checkpoints. REAL ID also requires states to put information about their citizens into a massive federal database.

The New Hampshire House voted to resist the Feds’ national ID and surveillance plan. Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, led a debate inspired by the principles of freedom and independence that support that state’s motto, “Live free or die.”

Kurk’s advocacy turned aside a House committee recommendation to go along with the national ID program. The House approved his anti-national-ID proposal. Next week, the Senate’s committee on transportation will hold a hearing on Kurk’s bill.

Why wouldn’t the Senate have the same loyalty to the principles of freedom that the House demonstrated? One simple reason: $3 million.

When Congress passed REAL ID last year, federal politicians knew that a national ID was both repugnant and expensive. So they tucked it into a must-pass military spending bill and they provided for grants of federal taxpayer money to compliant states.

Some of that money is slated for New Hampshire. If New Hampshire’s government will sell its citizens’ privacy, it gets a pile of federal cash. The Senate should refuse this dirty money and stand up for New Hampshire’s citizens like the House did.

New Hampshire’s decision on REAL ID would be a close call if a national ID would actually fix the problems our nation faces. But a national ID would neither prevent terrorism nor stem the tide of illegal immigration.

The Madrid bombings of March 2004 happened in a country that has a national ID. British civil liberties group Privacy International has studied the relationship between national ID cards and terrorism prevention and found that 80 percent of the 25 countries most adversely affected by terrorism since 1986 have national ID cards.

If REAL ID had been the law on 9/11, it would have had no influence on al-Qaida’s plan. Though many people assume the opposite, the 9/11 terrorists were in the United States legally. They had legally issued drivers’ licenses and Social Security numbers.

Should terrorists ever need a false REAL ID, U.S. immigration policy will surely help them. The conflict between our economic demand for cheap labor and our country’s tight lid on legal migration means that there is a steady demand for false documents. Time and again across the country, state motor vehicle workers have been corrupted by criminal networks that feed false documentation to illegal immigrants. REAL ID will not change this. But it may force us to rely on DMV workers for our security, a mistaken strategy if there ever was one.

Requiring all Americans to carry a national ID is not a response to 9/11 or a preventive of terrorism. It would satisfy the federal government’s demand for control, not Americans’ genuine need for security.

Law-abiding, native-born citizens should not pay the price for the evil intent and wrongful acts of others. But that’s exactly what a national ID would do: deprive the honest citizen of rightful freedom and privacy.

If Congress wants Americans to carry a national ID, Congress should vote for it openly, pay for it directly, and answer to voters itself. It should not slough its national ID policies onto the states.

The New Hampshire Senate should decline to let New Hampshire become an administrative unit of the federal government. And it should show that New Hampshire is rightly a nation-leading state in adhering to the principles on which America was founded.

Jim Harper is the director of information policy studies.