The REAL ID Act: Ill‐​Considered


Chairman Donnelson, Members of the Committee -

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about theREAL ID Act and the resolution against it you have before you.

This morning, when we were talking about legislative procedurein Utah, Mr. Chairman, you mentioned to me that no bill can come tothe House floor if it has not had a hearing. This is a good idea.And it’s something the U.S. Congress should try.

When Congress passed the REAL ID Act, it had not had a hearingon that bill in either the House or the Senate. Bad process leadsto bad results, and that is what you see in the REAL ID Act.

In May 2005, Congress passed REAL ID by stripping out andreplacing identification provisions in the Intelligence Reform andTerrorism Prevention Act that had been passed just the Decemberbefore, in response to the report of the 9/11 Commission. The lawthat the REAL ID Act replaced had established a negotiatedrulemaking committee in which state motor vehicle administrators,privacy experts, and federal representatives were to negotiateabout how to do drivers license security.

The ill‐​considered REAL ID Act has created many problems:

  • According to the National Conference of State Legislators,states across the country will have to spend 11 billion dollars inthe first five years if they implement REAL ID. The costs to Utahalone apparently reach into the hundreds of millions.
  • It may be very difficult, if not impossible, for many of yourresidents to get these federally standardized driver’s licensesUtah complies with REAL ID. Everyone will have to return to the DMVand wait in long lines, perhaps to learn that they don’t qualifyfor the new license.
  • Then there are the costs to your citizens’ privacy. Compliancewith the REAL ID Act would require Utah to capture digital imagesof drivers and keep digital copies of documents like their birthcertificates. It would require you to put our drivers’ informationin a database that is accessible nationwide. A corrupt officialanywhere in the country might be able to access this personalinformation about Utah drivers and residents. This threatens yourcitizens with identity fraud because it will contain all theinformation criminals need to open bank accounts and credit cardaccounts in their names, and maybe worse.

This national ID system will not provide the protections againstterrorism that the law’s backers claim. Identity systems aresubject to both physical and logical avoidance. Wrongdoers caneither avoid controlled borders and checkpoints, or they can enterthe country or obtain documents legally, as the 9/11 attackers, forthe most part, did. Of course, terrorists do not only come fromforeign countries, as we know well from the Oklahoma City bombingten years ago.

This national ID system might make it harder for illegalimmigrants to access our society, but it will also drive many ofthem deeper into criminality. Identity fraud would increase aspeople in this country illegally obtained more extensivedocumentation in order to work. I don’t think you solve the illegalimmigration problem by putting a national ID in the hands of thelaw abiding, native‐​born citizen. Congress needs to fix immigrationlaw, not compound the problem by turning its enforcement effortstoward surveillance of the law‐​abiding citizen worker.

The threat within the REAL ID Act is that the federal governmentwill not accept state IDs that aren’t compliant for things likeaccessing federal property and passing through security checkpointsat the airport. But it is clear that the federal government willback down on this threat as states stand up, by passing resolutionslike the one before you today.

And states across the country are standing up to the federalgovernment. They are moving to reject the national ID created bythe federal REAL ID Act. Passing this resolution, you would jointhem, and send a message to the U.S. Congress: If Congress wants anational ID, it should hold hearings and vote on it. It shouldimplement a national ID itself, and pay the tab for a national IDitself.

Jim Harper

Committee on Government Operations
Utah House of Representatives