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Like Frankenstein's Monster, DHS and the Senate Try to Revive Real ID

Chris Calabrese,
Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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July 15, 2009

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said today that Real ID was “DOA”. That’s “Dead On Arrival” for the tiny percentage of you out there who don’t watch a lot of cop shows on TV. What she meant was that states are not implementing Real ID. She repeatedly referenced the fact that 13 states have opted out of Real ID altogether, passing statutes that bar participation in the program. Of course the ACLU agrees with that message, we’ve been shouting it from the rooftops for years. But the real question is: If Real ID is dead, why is everybody working so hard to bring it back to life?

That was the theme at a hearing held today by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs entitled Identification Security: Reevaluating the REAL ID Act . Along with Secretary Napolitano, a host of other witnesses including the Governor of Vermont, a lobbyist for National Governor’s Association and the Sheriff of Los Angeles County all came to Washington to praise the PASS ID Act, which everyone stated would make Real ID much easier for the states to implement. The consistent theme of the hearing was captured when Napolitano called PASS ID a way to “fix the REAL ID Act of 2005 and institute strong security standards for government-issued identification.”

Unfortunately, when you translate “strong security standards for government-issued identification” into English, you still get a National ID. You will still need a Pass ID to enter many federal facilities, and you will still be hassled at the airport if you don’t have one. Additionally, while the Pass ID Act eliminates the requirement that states share all their drivers’ license information in a national database, it still creates a pilot program to allow states confirm driver information with other states — something that sounds a lot like a national database in waiting.

Worse, both the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and the ranking Republican on the Committee, Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) made clear that their biggest concerns with Pass ID are that it isn’t enough like a national ID card. Lieberman thinks the legislation might not do enough to share information between states, and Collins fears it might let people get on a plane without a National ID. While the states may have gotten their concerns addressed, a broad coalition of groups made clear in a joint letter (PDF) sent to the committee on Monday that many of the other problems with Real ID — for privacy advocates, for victims of domestic violence, for religious minorities, and for consumers — still remain with Pass ID.

We’ll keep opposing Real ID and Pass ID for all of these reasons. It’s a bad idea to bring dead things back to life. Just ask Doctor Frankenstein.

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