Tacoma, Washington’s News Tribune has editorialized about the REAL ID Act in a way that will be unfamiliar to followers of the national ID law and its implementation. The state has been “dawdling,” it says, by not moving forward on the national ID. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been “patient to a fault” and “dispensed grace” to the 28 states (NT’s number) that have escaped federal punishment. Next we’ll be told that the federal government is efficient and responsive.
If you’re just tuning in, last fall DHS began a major, concerted effort to bring state governments in line with the provisions of the REAL ID Act, a federal law designed to create a national ID system. Washington State has resisted this federal power-grab up over the last decade, but Senator Curtis King (R) recently introduced legislation that would bring Washington into compliance. This threatens Washingtonians privacy and liberty.
Passed in 2005, the REAL ID Act is a federal law designed to coerce states into adopting uniform standards for driver’s licenses and non-driver IDs. Compliance would also require the Washington State Department of Licensing to share drivers’ personal data and documents with departments of motor vehicles across the country through a nationwide data sharing system. If fully implemented, REAL ID would create a de facto national ID card administered by states for DHS. The back-end database system the law requires would expose data about drivers and copies of basic documents, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards, to hacking risks and access by corrupt DMV employees anywhere in the country.
Congress passed REAL ID Act without a hearings and no up-or-down vote in the Senate. Indeed, it was tacked onto a “must pass” military spending bill. Proponents frequently tout REAL ID as having been in a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. In fact, the REAL ID Act repealed federal legislation that had been passed based on the Commission’s recommendations. It also canceled a negotiated rulemaking process, which was bringing together state and federal officials, privacy groups, and civil libertarians in an effort to shape ID policy. Instead, the REAL ID Act ordered one-size fits all federal regulations with no input from outside groups, much less states.
As the costs to state budgets and Americans’ privacy became clear, many states rejected REAL ID compliance, passing resolutions against the law or outright banning themselves from complying. Washington was one of the strong states. It banned itself from complying with REAL ID in April 2007.
Seeking to break down state resistance, DHS has been issuing threats that it will soon begin refusing drivers’ license and IDs from non-compliant states at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. But DHS can only threaten; it has never made good on the threat and it never will. That is because DHS itself would take all the blame if it started refusing Americans their right to travel. Multiple DHS-invented “deadlines” have come and gone since the original deadline set by the law in 2008. In January, DHS backed off from a claim made last fall that it would start refusing many states’ licenses in 2016. The latest DHS-invented deadline is in 2018.
When Congress passed REAL ID in 2005, the claim was that it would be a tool in the fight against terrorism. Neither the DHS nor any advocate for a national ID has articulated how it would provide cost-effective security. The true result of the federal government’s national ID program would be greater tracking and control of law-abiding Americans, not terrorists. And data about law-abiding Americans would be exposed to the far more common threats of hacking and identity fraud. These are reasons why Washington resisted REAL ID when the federal Department of Homeland Security first tried to take over the Washington State Department of Licensing.
Another reason for resistance is the certainty that Washington, D.C., will move the goalposts after Washington State moves toward compliance. DHS bureaucrats will be able to change Washington State’s driver licensing policies, require the state to spend funds on the Department of Licensing as the federal bureaucracy wishes.
Washingtonians stood at the forefront of the anti-REAL ID movement when the law first appeared. They should continue to do so, and continue to fight against DHS and its allies in Olympia. There is no security benefit from implementing REAL ID. It simply transfers power from states like Washington to a growing federal government. Senator King should not want to be the official who goes down in hisotry as having pressed a national ID into the hands of Washingtonians.