In 2005, REAL ID was enacted in direct response of, and to comply with the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. 18 of the 19 hijackers who took part in the September 11th attacks obtained numerous driver’s licenses and state identifications (many of them duplicates), thereby convincing the Commission of a long overdue, stricter and stringent identification standards.
“Americans understand today that the 9/11 hijackers obtained 30 drivers licenses and ID’s, and used 364 aliases,” said former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff upon releasing a finalized 2008 REAL ID report. “For an extra $8 per license, REAL ID will give law enforcement and security officials a powerful advantage against falsified documents, and it will bring some peace of mind to citizens wanting to protect their identity from theft by a criminal or illegal alien.”
Specifically, the REAL ID Act proposed new rules to “establish the minimum standards, procedures and requirements that must be met if a state issued driver’s license or identification card is to be accepted by the Federal government for official purposes. Official purposes, as defined by the rules, include entering a nuclear power facility, entering a Federal building, and boarding a Federally-regulated airplane.” Proposed regulations of REAL ID include:
• security features that must be incorporated into each state driver’s license or identification card;
• verification of information provided by applicants to establish their identity and lawful status in the United States; and
• physical security standards for locations where licenses and identification cards are issued.
The estimated $3.9 billion cost to nationally implement REAL ID standards as well as the information-sharing between states (via interoperable networks), and looming deadlines have been major points of contention opponents of REAL ID have emphasized. As a result, a new resolution was introduced on June 15th by members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: the Providing for Additional Security in States’ Identification of 2009 (PASS ID).
The Senate held a recently held a hearing July 15th to receive testimony and discuss the merits of the REAL ID Act. Chaired by Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), the Sen. was joined by junior U.S. Senators Roland Burris (D-IL), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Susan Collins (R-ME), and senior U.S. Senator George Voinovich (R-OH). Former Arizona Governor and current Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) Janet Napolitano and Vermont Governor Jim Douglas (R-VT) were first brought before the committee to testify.
“I opposed REAL ID in 2005 because I thought it laid out an unworkable and expensive process—and history has borne this out,” Sen. Joe Lieberman argued in his opening remarks. “I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. I firmly believe that if our original Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 had not been replaced by REAL, we’d have more secure IDs today instead of continuing debate.”
“Continued delay is unacceptable,” Lieberman declared. “But I do have some concerns about PASS ID that I want to explore with our witnesses today. That’s why we will discuss bi-partisan legislation sponsored by a number of our fellow committee members.”
Sen. Lieberman continued, saying: “The 9/11 hijackers held multiple driver’s licenses and IDs from multiple states. Drug Runners, counterfeiters, and other criminals—or bad drivers with multiple offenses also exploit this lack of information sharing to get multiple licenses to help them hide from law enforcement. It is important to come up with a plan acceptable to states without losing sight of the 9/11 Commission warning that ‘travel documents are as important to terrorists as weapons,” he stated.
In 1995, Timothy McVeigh took advantage of lax security standards and used a counterfeit South Dakota license to rent the Ryder truck which demolished the Murrah Federal Building.
Sen. Akaka also acknowledged his past resistance to the REAL Act and explained the reasoning behind it: “I have been a real opponent of REAL due to privacy concerns,” he stated, “this would effectively create a national database that can become a one-stop shop for criminals—meaning no security at all. In this country we cherish freedom and the right of entry into federal buildings and to board planes. In less than a year states will be forced to comply with this overly burdensome act—we can’t let perfection get in the way of the good.”
Gov. Douglas and Janet Napolitano stated their support for greater security and uniform standards for personal identifications, claiming PASS to be fully compliant with the 9/11 Commission’s report.
Napalitano has been one of REAL ID’s harshest and most vocal critics from the outset due to its federally-mandated minimum security standards for all state-issued driver’s licenses.
The second panel brought before the committee consisted of testimonies from Stewart Baker, former Assistant Secretary for Policy at DHS, Leroy Baca, Los Angeles County Sheriff and board member of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), Ari Schwartz, Vice President of Center for Democracy & Technology, and David Quam, director of the National Governors Association (NGA).
Baker, the lone advocate of REAL ID brought before the committee, addressed what he deemed major shortcomings of PASS ID that could threaten national security for America. “PASS ID returns identity verification to identity validation, the pre-9/11 standard, in which the state could simply rubber-stamp documents, such as birth certificates, principal residency documents, electronic verification of Social Security numbers, and passports,” Baker stated.
Baker gave an account of how a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) inspector was able to obtain four different passports with four counterfeit birth certificates due to the lack of a verification system. In one state investigation, the GAO discovered 124 different licenses tied to one Social Security number, exemplifying another major problem which would only be exacerbated by PASS ID, according to the measure’s opponents.
Another distressing concern for REAL ID supporters is the clause in PASS ID which states “no person shall be denied boarding a commercial aircraft solely on the basis failure to prevent a driver’s license or identification card.”
“There’s a big difference between implementing this practice through current Transportation Security Administration (TSA) policy and creating a rigid statutory right, as PASS ID proposes,” stated Baker. Consequently, it could very well open the floodgates for lawsuits and litigation against TSA policy, based on a countless number of exorbitant and arbitrary accusations of racism and discrimination by certain groups.
“If the system can be defeated by simply refusing to carry identification, then the system becomes much easier to beat. Why would we want to make it easy to beat air security by creating a statutory right to fly without ID?” Baker asked. “What problem, exactly, is this provision trying to solve?”
In regards to the financial concerns cited by Napolitano and others before the committee, Baker heartily disagreed. “When the final regulations were announced in January 2008, the federal government made $360 million available to states. It also cut the amount states would have to spend by almost three-quarters by extending the enrollment deadline,” Baker said.
Considering the historic cost of the Obama administration’s stimulus package as well as well as the crusade for government-run health care which would cost as much as much as $3 trillion, it leaves many people bewildered when REAL ID critics cite the $3.9 billion cost as an unrealistic demand in these troubled economic times and the insurmountable obstacle to implementing the program.
Today 56 different jurisdictions have 56 different standards to issue a document that has evolved over the years into allowing holders to buy liquor, enter federal buildings, board airplanes, cash checks, and obtain credit cards. The 9/11 Commission recommended the REAL ID Act in lieu of the current system or PASS ID measures because REAL ID merely calls for the digitization of birth records and completely circumvents the numerous ways the current system is abused.
“I have yet to [hear] a coherent explanation of the claim that REAL ID is bad for privacy,” Baker complained. Surely privacy is not improved by a bad identification system. The closest thing to a coherent argument is based on the false claim that REAL ID would create a national database of individual’s personal information. State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMVs), not the federal government, will continue to control driver’s license data. REAL ID simply allows state DMVs to access the databases of other states’—something that law enforcement officials can do now every time they perform a traffic stop. No additional databases are created and there is no aggregation of personal data.”