REAL ID. A Real Threat to Our Privacy.
There was once, not long ago, a Republican party that fought to keep the government out of our lives.
Those days are gone. First, the Patriot Act was passed with its legalization of overly intrusive investigative techniques. And now we have the REAL ID Act, an expansive law that will effectively create a national ID card along with a vast database containing personal information on every American. It is on the President’s desk, awaiting a signature.
On the surface, REAL ID is an earnest attempt to shore up our identification system, both to fight terrorism and deter illegal immigration. But this is not a benign law. Once it goes into effect, much of your personal information will be stored on your driver’s license. Worse, everyone from your bank to the airport to your local 7-11 will be able to scan it to verify you are who you say you are. There is no way you can expect all these places to keep your data secure from thieves.
But identity theft is the least of the worries with REAL ID. The much more ominous problem is: if we have to scan our IDs every time we board a plane, every time we walk into a bar, every time we purchase groceries, what’s to stop an unscrupulous government agency or private corporation from using our IDs to track our movements and purchases? Your health insurer would like to know about that pack of cigarettes you bought. Your car warranty holder would like to know that you just got auto maintenance at a non-approved location. The Government would like to question you because you’ve been traveling out of the country a lot.
REAL ID poses some very serious privacy concerns. Our freedom is predicated on our ability to act freely. If we can be continuously monitored, we can’t be free. Clearly this isn’t the intent of REAL ID. But it could very well be its effect. The only way to avoid a society where we are continually monitored is to oppose the steps that will lead us there.
To those who think this is a wise means of fighting terrorism, I ask you: how much can a national ID card really stop madmen intent on our murder? Limiting our freedoms is not the way to stop terrorism.
As former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey said in a speech two years ago:
Since 9/11, I believe people in the government… have been playing out a lust for our information that is not consistent with who we have been as a nation and what our constitutional freedoms are. Their rationale has been, “the threat of terrorism is so great, so immediate and is so ubiquitous that you must sacrifice your personal liberties and personal rights to privacy to us."
As a true Republican, Armey understands that our privacies are not something to be sacrificed lightly. That, in fact, they should be protected with the same vigilance with which we protect our lives.
President Bush will certainly sign REAL ID into law because it’s attached to an emergency appropriations bill. But states have three years before they must be in full compliance. Opponents have three years to get this bad law revoked.
We may eventually need a national ID, but it would have to be very limited in scope and required for nothing more than border crossings and plane travel. What we don’t need is an expansive electronic ID system. The opportunity for abuse is too extreme.
For another great take, see The Moderate Voice.