Along with uniform ID card standards, documentation and data retention requirements in REAL ID mean that digital “facial image capture” and copies of people’s birth certificates, Social Security cards, and the like are retained in DMV databases for years under the law. The REAL ID Act also requires states to share their drivers’ data and documents with every motor vehicle agency across the country through a nationwide network of databases. In its effort to cajole state participation and show progress with implementation, DHS obfuscates this clear statutory requirement. REAL ID creates a national ID system that happens to be run by the states, and it exposes Americans to hacking and identity fraud risks.
Following the law’s 2005 passage, many state legislators and officials recognized REAL ID for what it was: a massive federal power‐grab at the expense of states and their citizens. State legislatures across the country passed legislation blocking their governments from complying with the federal mandate, and even more passed resolutions denouncing the federal legislation. As of today, twenty‐seven states remain non‐compliant with REAL ID.
But DHS has stepped up efforts to enforce REAL ID on non‐compliant states. The efforts include threating to turn back travelers at the airport or blocking entry to federal buildings if a U.S. citizen’s license doesn’t display REAL ID’s signature gold star. By October 2020, the federal government expects every license held by an American to comply with REAL ID. DHS has bluffed about deadlines, and it always falls back, as it did again early this year. But fear of federal action moves states toward submitting to the national ID mandate year over year over year.
As a matter of routine, appropriators have funded the effort to turn state motor vehicle bureaus into arms of the DHS. The Cato Institute has found that, on average, Congress appropriated and DHS spent about $50 million per year on REAL ID from 2008 to 2011. Starting in 2011, REAL ID was folded into the “State Homeland Security Grant Program,” reducing public oversight of federal spending on the national ID.
The draft version of 2017 DHS spending legislation slated for debate next week continues this tradition. The State Homeland Security Grant Program is set to receive a direct $467 million, while an additional $237 million has been set aside for “training, exercises, technical assistance, and other programs.” Congress will not say it and DHS does not want it said, but at least some of this roughly $700 million will be used to fund REAL ID and the national ID system.
REAL ID trades Americans’ privacy and money for essentially no additional security. The Appropriations Committee and all members of Congress should follow the lead of the broad cross‐section of Americans who oppose a national ID and all that it represents. Members of Congress who allow funds to flow to REAL ID are not securing the country. They are spending to insulate themselves from the risk that they will be called soft on security.