Real ID Act gives us false sense of security
THE HUGE cost -- an estimated $11 billion -- of issuing fraud-proof national drivers licenses and identification cards to Americans is not the biggest problem with the 2005 Real ID Act. That could be fixed by federal funding. A much more serious problem is that the law makes citizens vulnerable to identity theft without making the country more secure from terrorists.
The Real ID Act, a counter-terrorism measure recommended by the 9/11 commission, sets national standards for driver's licenses and requires states to incorporate common security features to prevent counterfeiting or tampering. The act sets a May 2008 deadline for issuing the licenses and ID cards.
Many of the Real ID Act's provisions violate the right of privacy under the Hawaii Constitution. The bill requires states to link databases containing sensitive personal information such as Social Security numbers. State databases must contain a digital image and a paper copy of each birth certificate and other identity document that anyone presents to get an ID. This unified system invites more identity theft. The law requires a security clearance for everyone who issues a state ID. This hardly dents the system's security problems, but piles on more state costs.
ALTHOUGH issued by the states, the Real ID is a national identification card system. In very recent history, totalitarian governments have misused such systems. Congress enacted the new standards with little discussion and no public hearing, by tacking them onto an emergency-spending bill for the Iraq war. We need to have a serious debate about information policy to decide how much personal information we want captured, stored, transferred and used.
The act will decrease, not increase, our national security. States like Hawaii, with large immigrant populations, must try to verify IDs from all over the world. Realistically, some fake ones will slip by. Real IDs will create a false sense of security in the people to whom the IDs are presented. Private workers with airlines and public workers guarding federal buildings inevitably will rely too much on the ID card as proof of a person's legitimate status in the United States.
IDENTIFICATION, false or otherwise, was not a big part of the planning or execution of the 9/11 attacks. The hijackers did little to hide their true identities. They entered the country on tourist visas, using valid passports. They used their own names with banks and did not use false Social Security numbers. Most terrorists rely on surprise and indifference to consequences, not anonymity. Magnetometers, X-ray machines and sensors work better than drivers' licenses in stopping terrorists.
If we want to look at costs, let's look at them all. If a state does not comply with the act by May 2008, its state IDs will not be accepted for federal purposes, which include entering federal facilities. Many of Hawaii's elderly citizens born in foreign countries do not have a birth certificates or other documents showing their date of birth. If this law is not repealed or amended, Hawaii will see many of its residents lose Social Security, health and other federal benefits because they cannot get the Real ID necessary to enter federal offices. This will place an intolerable burden on our state treasury as we use state funds to make up for lost federal subsistence benefits.
We all want to protect our country from terrorists, but this law is not the way to do it. We can do better.
Lorraine R. Inouye is chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Transportation & Government Operations.