The REAL ID Act: Ill‐​Considered

February 13, 2007 • Testimony

Chairman Donnelson, Members of the Committee -

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

This morning, when we were talking about legislative procedure in Utah, Mr. Chairman, you mentioned to me that no bill can come to the 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 hearing on that bill in either the House or the Senate. Bad process leads to bad results, and that is what you see in the REAL ID Act.

In May 2005, Congress passed REAL ID by stripping out and replacing identification provisions in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act that had been passed just the December before, in response to the report of the 9/11 Commission. The law that the REAL ID Act replaced had established a negotiated rulemaking committee in which state motor vehicle administrators, privacy experts, and federal representatives were to negotiate about 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 in the first five years if they implement REAL ID. The costs to Utah alone apparently reach into the hundreds of millions.
  • It may be very difficult, if not impossible, for many of your residents to get these federally standardized driver’s licenses Utah complies with REAL ID. Everyone will have to return to the DMV and wait in long lines, perhaps to learn that they don’t qualify for the new license.
  • Then there are the costs to your citizens’ privacy. Compliance with the REAL ID Act would require Utah to capture digital images of drivers and keep digital copies of documents like their birth certificates. It would require you to put our drivers’ information in a database that is accessible nationwide. A corrupt official anywhere in the country might be able to access this personal information about Utah drivers and residents. This threatens your citizens with identity fraud because it will contain all the information criminals need to open bank accounts and credit card accounts in their names, and maybe worse.

This national ID system will not provide the protections against terrorism that the law’s backers claim. Identity systems are subject to both physical and logical avoidance. Wrongdoers can either avoid controlled borders and checkpoints, or they can enter the country or obtain documents legally, as the 9/11 attackers, for the most part, did. Of course, terrorists do not only come from foreign countries, as we know well from the Oklahoma City bombing ten years ago.

This national ID system might make it harder for illegal immigrants to access our society, but it will also drive many of them deeper into criminality. Identity fraud would increase as people in this country illegally obtained more extensive documentation in order to work. I don’t think you solve the illegal immigration problem by putting a national ID in the hands of the law abiding, native‐​born citizen. Congress needs to fix immigration law, not compound the problem by turning its enforcement efforts toward surveillance of the law‐​abiding citizen worker.

The threat within the REAL ID Act is that the federal government will not accept state IDs that aren’t compliant for things like accessing federal property and passing through security checkpoints at the airport. But it is clear that the federal government will back down on this threat as states stand up, by passing resolutions like the one before you today.

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

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