Testimony

Regarding HB 1582 an act prohibiting New Hampshire from participating
in a national identification card system

New Hampshire State Senate Committee on Public and Municipal Affairs

Chairman Roberge, Vice Chairman Hassan, and Members of the Committee:

It is a pleasure to speak with you today about HB 1582. I believe this to be nation-leading legislation to refuse New Hampshire’s participation in the national ID system created by the federal REAL ID Act.

I am director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., a think-tank dedicated to our nation’s founding principles of freedom, limited government, and peace. Though I speak only for myself today, I am also a member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee. In addition, I edit Web-based privacy think-tank Privacilla.org and maintain an online resource about federal spending called WashingtonWatch.com.

A national ID is anathema to the values of New Hampshirites and all Americans. The stirring debate in the New Hampshire House and the strong vote for HB 1582 taken in that body reflects this.

Americans and New Hampshirites should be free to go about their lawful business without being asked to identify themselves at government checkpoints. We are increasingly seeing this freedom restricted. New Hampshire’s participation in the REAL ID Act would diminish Americans’ and New Hampshirites’ ability to go where they want, and do what they want, free of interference by governmental authorities.

Having a national ID would promote a surveillance society that we should all dread. It would also make it even easier for identity fraudsters to ply their trade. Though we live in one of the freest countries in the world, we should be vigilant against a national ID because of the role national identification programs have played historically in the evils of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, apartheid South Africa, and even Rwanda during that country’s recent genocide.

Speaking practically, I understand that a major concern with this legislation is that it may prevent New Hampshire from accepting a $3 million federal grant to aid with the cost of implementing REAL ID. I want to caution you against accepting this grant or agreeing to participate in the federal national ID program. Doing so may commit New Hampshire to a far larger expenditure with no guarantee of support from the federal government.

The decision you are making with HB 1582 is not whether you will receive $3 million in federal funds, but whether you will spend ten times that to participate in the national ID system. Estimates from a variety of states and groups show that the costs to New Hampshire from implementing the REAL ID Act could range from substantial to staggering:

  • Virginia Governor Mark Warner’s Task Force on the Real ID Act estimated start-up costs if Virginia participated in REAL ID ranging from $35 million to $169 million, and recurring costs from $1 million to $63 million per year. The Task Force expressed doubts that federal funds would cover all the costs of implementing the REAL ID Act.
  • The budget director of Washington state’s Department of Licensing has estimated that his state might need to spend $97 million during the next two years should it implement REAL ID.
  • In a broader study, the National Conference of State Legislatures estimated that it would cost $9 billion nationwide for states to implement the REAL ID Act.
  • Taxpayer group Citizens Against Government Waste has estimated costs as high as $15 billion dollars for full implementation of the REAL ID Act. This would push the cost of a driver’s license from the $10-$25 range up to $90 or more.

Though $3 million dollars is a significant amount in any state, it pales in comparison to the open-ended obligation you will incur if you agree to participate in the REAL ID Act - all for the privilege of conscripting New Hampshirites into a national identification and surveillance system. This is why HB 1582 is such important legislation.

Because it is one of the first states to be offered a token of federal support for REAL ID compliance, New Hampshire will be a national leader one way or another. 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 becomes a servant of the federal government.

If HB 1582 does not pass, New Hampshirites will pay more money for drivers’ licenses, through higher state taxes, higher federal taxes, and higher fees at the Division of Motor Vehicles, not to mention inconvenience and delay. And, over time, they will find themselves asked more and more often to show their national identification cards as they go about their lives.

If HB 1582 passes, New Hampshirites will save money and time. They will be better protected from creeping, increasing surveillance. And the federal government will not hold to the threat in the REAL ID Act that citizens of entire states might be excluded from federal facilities, federally regulated aircraft, and other areas and infrastructure. Congress and the Department of Homeland Security would be overwhelmed by the constitutional, legal, and practical difficulties of trying to carry out the blackmail scheme created by the REAL ID Act.

New Hampshire truckers will be able to work as they do now. The argument that trucking would be impacted by REAL ID simply “does not compute.” The REAL ID Act makes no mention of the Commercial Driver’s License system. Trucking is subject to an entirely separate system, the Transportation Worker Identity Card. Only a bizarre stretch of the REAL ID Act could capture truckers. And, again, the federal government will not follow through on the threat posed by the REAL ID Act.

I have just completed a book on identification called Identity Crisis: How Identification if Overused and Misunderstood, to be published next month. I have studied identification and identity cards carefully, and I want you to know that a national ID is neither a protection from terrorism nor a response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. A national ID would satisfy the federal government’s demand for control - not Americans’ genuine need for security and law enforcement.

If the New Hampshire Senate stands up for its citizens by passing HB 1582, it will lead the movement among states that are ready to do the same. Together, they will force the national ID issue back to the federal level.

If Congress wants a national ID, the U.S. House and Senate should be forced to create, implement, and pay for it themselves. They should be forced to take an up-or-down vote on a national ID, something that did not happen when the REAL ID Act was passed as part of a military spending bill.

In HB 1582, you have a wonderful opportunity to stand up for New Hampshirites and refuse your state’s participation in the national identification card system. You can show why New Hampshire is rightly regarded as a bellwether state for freedom, civil liberties, and privacy.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my views.