With President Bush set to plug the Patriot Act at the Port of Baltimore this morning, discontent in the states over a different law, the Real ID Act, provides a cautionary tale for why Congress must not play politics with Patriot Act reauthorization.
The Real ID Act imposes new, unfunded, standards on state departments of motor vehicles. In three years, state DMVs will have to run immigration status checks on all license applicants. Real ID also imposed new identification standards for driver's licenses, which will create a de facto national identification card (one that's almost certain to be expensive and of dubious effectiveness, because the states themselves will administer the cards).
By centralizing our personal information into one giant data repository (the logical extension of a standardized driver's license), the Real ID Act presents many of the same privacy dilemmas as the Patriot Act. Both make it easier for the government to find out about you; your medical information, what you read, who you see; without any evidence that you're up to no good.
Both Real ID and the Patriot Act show how deliberation falters in the face of fear. When Congress takes up Patriot Act reauthorization, it has a chance to do better.