Funding for Invasive Real ID Cons States in Exchange for Their Privacy

February 6, 2008 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – After releasing regulations last month that failed to fix the manifold privacy and civil liberties violations of the Real ID Act, the federal government has left state governments to shoulder most of the cost of the onerous, invasive national ID program. The President’s budget proposal requests only $110 million in federal grant money toward the states for Real ID implementation, and even that money, if actually appropriated by Congress, will be split among Real ID and other programs.

Real ID, which the American Civil Liberties Union believes should be reformed or repealed in the first place for its threats to civil liberties, has been attacked by governors and state legislators nationwide for forcing them to sacrifice their residents’ privacy and having their own state governments pay for the intrusion.

Even combined with about $80 million in federal dollars already in place to pay for Real ID implementation, the funding would fall far short of the projected cost – estimated by the Department of Homeland Security to fall between four and 23 billion dollars – for the constitutionally suspect driver’s license program. States are left to fend for themselves to comply with the unfair, unworkable demands of the Real ID Act. The National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan coalition of state legislators, expressed outrage at the paltry funding request, calling it the “most egregious example” of unfunded federal mandates.

“The financial costs are too high for taxpayers, and the privacy costs are too high for all Americans,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “DHS expected state officials to sacrifice their residents’ privacy if the federal government would foot the bill, but DHS is incapable of holding up even that much of their skewed bargain. Every governor should follow the lead of Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and opt out of Real ID as soon as they can. Every governor, every state legislator and every taxpayer should be insulted by how little the Department of Homeland Security values their privacy. Congress should embrace the bipartisan efforts to reform Real ID or end the program altogether.”

Seventeen states have rejected Real ID, in large part because of privacy and civil liberties concerns, but also because the federal government is not contributing enough to the program’s enormous cost. Under Real ID, every American would be required to have a federally approved ID in order to participate in basic aspects of American life, and everyone’s personal information would be stored in a national database available to officials in all levels of government.

“It’s time for Congress to end this national ID nightmare before another penny is wasted and another identity is stolen,” said Tim Sparapani, ACLU senior legislative counsel. “We still haven’t gotten the truth about the funding for Real ID. These kinds of false promises don’t help build our confidence in DHS, which appears bent on cataloging every American’s personal data and making states pay for it. They haven’t fixed Real ID’s civil liberties problems, and they haven’t shown us the money for Real ID – they have only left unresolved significant threats to our privacy.”

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