Are journalists across the nation working to establish a national ID in the United States? Most would object, “Certainly not!”
But in reporting uncritically on the Department of Homeland Security’s claimed deadlines for implementing the U.S. national ID law, many journalists are unwittingly helping impose a system that the federal government may one day use to identify, track, and control every American. Today I’ve started Tweeting about news articles in which this occurs with the hashtag #TakenInByDHS.
Under the terms of the REAL ID Act, which became law more than ten years ago, states were supposed to begin issuing licenses according to federal standards by May of 2008. States that didn’t follow federal mandates would see their residents turned away at airports when the Transportation Security Administration declined their drivers’ licenses and ID cards.
The DHS failed to issue implementing regulations timely, and backed off of the statutory deadline by regulatory fiat. No state was in compliance with REAL ID on deadline, and no state is compliant with REAL ID today. Over the years, the Department of Homeland Security has declared a variety of milestones and deadlines in a fairly impotent effort to bring state driver licensing policy under federal control. Many states have resisted.
The reason for DHS’s impotence is that making good on the threat to prevent Americans from traveling would almost surely backfire. If already unpopular TSA agents began refusing Americans their right to travel, it would be federal bureaucrats and members of Congress getting the blame—not state legislators.
But most state legislators haven’t done this calculation. They are reluctant to create a national ID, and they don’t want to expend taxpayer funds on a program that undercuts their constituents’ privacy. But told of their potential responsibility for bedlam at local airports, they will accede to such things.
It is often state-level bureaucrats in DHS-friendly motor vehicle bureaus and public safety agencies who inform state leaders of the bind they’re in—and the impending deadline. Without more information, state legislators think the sensible step is REAL ID compliance.
When journalists report uncritically on the premise that there is a real 2016 deadline for REAL ID compliance, they contribute to the disinformation problem. They inadvertently help goad state legislators into complying with the federal government’s national ID plans.
The fact is that there is no real cost to state non-compliance with REAL ID. States have rejected the REAL ID mandate with impunity. Indeed, there are savings of several types from refusing REAL ID. State legislators can save their constituents’ tax money and save them from time in line at motor vehicle bureaus. They can save themselves from committing important state policies to federal control. They can save the privacy of their constituents. And they can help save American liberty from the long, slow shift of power to the central government in Washington, D.C.
Welcome, journalists and those curious about the #TakenInByDHS hashtag. I hope this blog post informs you a little more about REAL ID. I encourage you to be skeptical of DHS compliance deadlines and the choices our constitutionally autonomous U.S. states face.