Commentary

Real ID Laws Are a National Catastrophe

Pennsylvania is poised to join 11 other states that have passed laws rejecting the federal Real ID Act. Many more have objected to it.

Passed by Congress in 2005 - without any debate - Real ID is nothing more than an attempt by Congress to strong-arm the states into accepting and funding a national ID scheme. It requires states to produce new, standardized driver’s licenses with machine-readable technology, and to create databases that hold copies of American citizens’ sensitive identity documents. The tab for all of this is expected to be nearly $17 billion, with the state governments forced to shoulder the majority of the financial burden.

Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania House unanimously passed legislation barring the implementation of Real ID. The Senate is expected to consider similar legislation this fall.

In this tight economy, it is necessary for everybody, including members of Congress and state officials, to tighten their belts and make budgetary decisions based on priorities. States should not be forced to change their priorities or raise taxes and fees because of an unfunded federal mandate - especially not one that offers false security at the expense of our privacy and civil liberties.

Gov. Edward Rendell knows Pennsylvania’s priorities better than Congress and federal bureaucrats in the Department of Homeland Security. He has made it a priority to improve the state’s infrastructure. The governor has committed significant financial resources to rebuilding 411 of the state’s 6,034 structurally deficient bridges. At least when money goes to infrastructure like bridges, taxpayers get something they can use in return.

Gov. Rendell recently began his tenure as chairman of the National Governor’s Association. His “Chair’s Initiative” will focus on similar policies: Strengthening infrastructure investment across the country. After last year’s bridge collapse in Minneapolis, which claimed 13 lives, this is a clearer way to protect citizens and save lives than implementing the Real ID boondoggle.

The states’ revolt against Real ID is unprecedented in modern American history and it demonstrates the breadth of the opposition. In states across the country, political leaders from both the left and the right have rejected this dangerous and unworkable program.

Real ID suffers from serious flaws that will affect the rights of every American. It mandates that every state’s database - containing Social Security cards, copies of birth certificates, etc. - be linked and accessible to tens of thousands of DMV employees.

Real ID suffers from serious flaws that will affect the rights of every American.”

By making our personal information accessible to countless individuals across the country, Real ID exposes it to misuse and identity theft. In addition, the new driver’s licenses created by Real ID will contain a machine-readable component, allowing the government to track and monitor law-abiding citizens like we are criminals on parole. Any way you look at it, the Real ID national ID scheme is a bad law that needs to be scrapped. It is enormously expensive, offers little to no benefits, and places our personal information at risk for use in identify theft.

The Pennsylvania Senate should follow the lead of the House and send a strong and clear message to Congress that Pennsylvanians will not be bullied into accepting an unfunded surveillance mandate like Real ID.

Gov. Rendell should join in by focusing on his priorities for Pennsylvania while rejecting the federal government’s plan to increase tracking and surveillance of all Americans.

Jim Harper is director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute and the author of the book Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood.