Friday, May 20, 2005

UnREAL ID?

Congress has just passed the REAL ID act, attached to the Iraq spending bill, claiming its aim is for greater national security. I have no complaints with that, per se. That’s a pretty noble goal, after all. I like the idea that we can use a little piece of plastic in everybody’s wallet to make us all safer. But, really, will it do that? And, even more, is that why it’s been passed?

When they say “ID”, they mean your driver’s license, the state-issued document permitting you to operate a motorized vehicle. That’s all. However, over the course of the last couple of generations, since the vast majority of Americans own and operate some form of motor vehicle, this document has become so commonplace that it is accepted as the form of identification for a multitude of purposes. After all, when you get licenses from the Department of Motorized Vehicles (DMV), they ask for some other proof of who you are. The system is well-protected, isn’t it?

Not exactly.

It’s been pretty easy to get around the system, and get licenses, even if you aren’t qualified to drive a wheelbarrow, let alone an eighteen-wheeler. Illinois ended up with a Chicago Democrat as governor, largely as a result of the criminal ease with which those sorts of papers ended up in the wrong hands, during a Republican’s tenure. And, recently, a New York judge decided that people who had no right to be in this country had a right to an official state document allowing them to drive all over the country, if they so choose.

REAL ID still allows illegal immigrants to get licenses, but these new documents will be marked so that those with temporary visas -- and those who are here illegally, too -- will not be able to use them to board airplanes. Spiffy. They can drive to their jobs -- at which somebody is breaking a law or two by hiring them. They just can’t fly. And, under the older Secure Flight system, we’d already had a half- uh... hearted... method of checking watch lists in order to limit the number of known terrorists per flight. REAL ID won’t really affect the skies, much.

On the other hand, the rest of us groundlings will have a standardized, machine-readable document which, according to the Supreme Court of the US, police officers have the right to demand, even of law-abiding citizens. So. First, you’re carrying a document which, by virtue of being machine-readable at any location,will actually aid criminals in the modern business of identity theft. Second, this document has a proposed tracking system (RFID chips, like the ones embedded in passports), so the government -- or anybody who can hack the system -- knows where you are at any time. Paranoid, anyone? And third, you could be innocently walking down the street, and the police can stop you and require that you present ID.

They’ve also made it a requirement that everybody give an actual street address, not a P.O. box or other form of address. That’s okay for most of us, but they make no exemption for judges, police officers (including undercover officers), or other citizens for whom home privacy is not only useful, but life-saving.

Add to the ineffectual security card, the problem that this is an unfunded mandate, so all the costs for getting everybody up to code by the effective date will be dumped on the individual states. After the proposed cuts in federal jobs at the many military bases, this will be a further fiscal burden some states may not be able to handle.

I like that Congress has finally decided that a driver’s license is the privilege it really is, and that there ought to be restrictions on who gets one and how. I like that Washington is finally pushing all the states to have a common standard for licenses and identification cards. And I particularly like that some folks in Washington have figured out that illegal immigrants, by virtue of their having broken laws in order to acquire their residency, do not have the same rights, in traveling this land, that the law-abiding citizenry have. It’s about time they got a clue, there.

What I don’t like is that we’re handing more power over our lives to the central, Federal government. The supposed purpose for REAL ID is security. But we already had systems in place which were as effective in preventing terrorism as this measure is likely to be (in other words, not very). The way it is written, what this act does is make things too easy for somebody to abuse the system, for criminal intent or/and power play. I’ve said it before: ya don’t put temptation in front of somebody unless ya expect him ta bite. This is especially true in this age of moral relativism.

We don’t yet have a Police State, but having REAL ID in place, as it is written today, is a really solid step toward creating one. That makes us much less secure.

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