Idaho May Implement REAL ID—by Mistake

Ten years ago, Idaho came out strongly against the REAL ID Act, a federal law that seeks to weave state driver licensing systems into a U.S. national ID. But Department of Homeland Security bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., have been working persistently to undermine state resistance. They may soon enjoy a small success. A bill the Idaho legislature sent to the governor Friday (HB 513) risks putting Idahoans all the way in to the national ID system.

Idaho would be better off if the legislature and Governor Butch Otter (R) continued to refuse the national ID law outright.

Idaho’s government was clear about the federal REAL ID Act in 2008. The legislature and governor wrote into state law that the national ID law was “inimical to the security and well-being of the people of Idaho.” They ordered the Idaho Transportation Department to do nothing to implement REAL ID.

Since then, the DHS has threatened several times to prevent people living in non-compliant states from going through TSA checkpoints at the nation’s airports. The DHS has always backed down from these threats—the feds would get all the blame if DHS followed through—but the threats have done their work. Compliance legislation is on the move in a number of states.

One of those states is Idaho, where that bill with Governor Otter would call for compliance with the REAL ID Act’s requirements “as such requirements existed on January 1, 2016.” That time limitation is meant to keep Idahoans out of the nation-wide database system that the REAL ID Act requires. But the bill might put Idahoans into the national ID system by mistake.

When the original “REAL ID Rebellion” happened with Idaho at the forefront, DHS was under pressure to show progress on the national ID. DHS came up with a “material compliance checklist,” which is a pared-back version of the REAL ID law. Using this checklist, DHS has been claiming that more and more states are in compliance with the national ID law. It is a clever, if dishonest, gambit.

Practical state legislators in many states have believed what the DHS is telling them, and they think that they should get on board with the national ID law or else their state’s residents will be punished. DHS is successfully dividing and conquering, drawing more power to Washington, D.C.

The compliance bill in Idaho means to give in just a small amount, but it refers to the requirements of the REAL ID Act, a federal law, as of January 1st, not the “material compliance checklist” invented by DHS. And the law is clear: a state must “[p]rovide electronic access to all other States to information contained in the motor vehicle database of the State.” That means Idahoans’ personal information, copies of their birth certificates and similar documents, their driving records—whatever the DHS decides must be shared.

The risks to Idahoans’ privacy and security are clear. Government and private databases are compromised all the time. A system for sharing driver data with every department of motor vehicles in the country would make Idahoans’ personal information as secure as the weakest DMV in the country.

The idea of having a national ID is something that Americans have long rejected, and for good reason. Once in place, a national ID would be used to control access not just to driving, but to work, to health care, to guns and ammo, to financial services, and housing. In the future, when identity systems go digital, a federally controlled system might just permit Washington, D.C. to “de-identify” people who haven’t paid their taxes or who appear on any form of watchlist.

These are not powers any government should have, much less the federal government in D.C. That’s why it is very important that Idaho should not compromise on REAL ID implementation. The requirements of the REAL ID law include a nationwide data-sharing system, even if the DHS’s implementation strategy has papered over that fact for the time being.

The right strategy for freedom-loving states is continued resistance to REAL ID—all of it. Idaho can continue to show leadership in this area and resist federal mandates. The Idaho legislature and governor said in 2008 that Congress adopted REAL ID “in violation of the principles of federalism contained in the 10th amendment to the constitution of the United States.” Those are not principles to compromise on.