by Logan Warren
What is the Real ID act, and how and why did it come about? The Real ID act (H.R. 418) was introduced on January 26th, 2005. It was soon added as a silent adjunction to a must-pass military spending bill. With no debate, it was signed into law on May 11th. Its purported purpose was to streamline the identification of terrorists and illegal immigrants, while making it harder for these individuals to obtain lawful identification. Before accepting the Real ID act at face value, citizens should be knowledgeable about its effects; namely, what the act means to the states, how the new ID card will be different from currently issued cards, how the new ID system will effect them, and what shortcomings exist in the current identification system that beg remediation from the federal government. This article seeks to address these issues, and inform the general public about a major, though largely important issue. What does the passage the Real ID act mean to the states? The act requires that all states replace their current ID cards with the new, updated “Real ID” card, and uplink their Department of Motor Vehicles’ databases to the governments of all NAFTA nations, as well as CIA and NSA supercomputers. The Real ID act does not, however, provide guidelines or funding for the implementation of data security for the DMV uplinks. Imagine what could be done to a nationwide high-value network with dubious security, when America’s own Department of Homeland Security has been hacked over 800 times in the past 2 years alone. Complete implementation of the Real ID act is expected to cost the 50 states around 14 billion dollars. To date, the federal government has appropriated only 80 million dollars to help states offset the enormous costs of implementing Real ID. (DHS) Many states argue that they will be unable to pay for real ID, and have threatened to slash civil services spending when a budget shortage occurs. If the federal government does not back down or lengthen the time line for the implementation of Real ID, we may again see a nationwide federal project forcing states to tighten civil spending, just as the “prison-industrial complex…(encroaches)…on funds for higher education” in many states. (Ainsworth)
What will the Real ID card look like? The new card will look very different from current ID cards, featuring on its face a photograph of the holder, their fingerprints, current address, a remotely readable and modifiable radio frequency identification (RFID) chip, and a hologram featuring the United States, Canada, Mexico, and a passenger car. Optionally, other forms of the card holder’s biometrics, such as blood or urine samples, may be included for DNA identification purposes.
Why do we even need Real ID? Given the trust placed in the driver’s license as a form of government-issued identification, it is hardly a wonder that government agencies and officials seek to increase the security of the document. According to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, “The American publics desire for greater identity protection is undeniable. Americans understand today that the 9/11 hijackers obtained 30 drivers licenses and IDs, and used 364 aliases. 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.” (DHS)
The Real ID system of identification may serve many high-crime-rate areas well, such as the 1980’s New York City presented in Malcom Gladwell’s book “The Turning Point.” (Gladwell) For example, police officers would be able to “scan” people from a distance to determine if they have an outstanding crime on their record that begs further investigation. This would greatly ease the strained police forces of larger cities, saving the police time, and therefore saving the city money.
What does the passage of this act mean for the general populace of America? First, judges, jurors, politicians, and police officers will be forced to hand out their true home address every time they are asked to show their ID. Second, the RIFD chip in the card may be read from up to 75 feet away with a $50 unit plugged into a laptop computer. If one were willing to spend the money, a reader could be built that would be capable of scanning and tracking the cards from a half mile or more away. Recently, the RFID chip was featured in the hit film “The Bourne Ultimatum,” wherein the CIA used the RFID chip found in all U.S. passports to track an important subject in another country, and ultimately assassinate him. The federal government assures America that this new system of identification will virtually eliminate fraud and identity theft. To better understand what insecurities may exist in the current system, I will analyze what goes into obtaining a state ID card, and how easy or difficult is it for a normally-equipped individual to procure one. First, in order to obtain a valid, though fraudulent state ID card, a person need only obtain a primary and secondary form of identification, using these documents to procure said “identification card” from any state DMV. To highlight the ease with which one may obtain basic identification, a.k.a. “breeder” documents, note the system used by many illegal immigrants to obtain valid Texas Driver’s licenses: 1. Visit vitalchek.com, an online source for birth certificates. 2. Enter the name of the birth certificate holder, and the first and last names of the holder’s father and mother. 3. Have the certificate shipped to a doorstep in a few days time. Total time spent is around 10 minutes, with a total cost of $36 for the certificate. Noting this, it is obviously a trivial matter to obtain the “primary identification document” required in all 50 states. All that is left is “secondary identification.” In many states, a person is required to provide secondary identification, such as proof of their social security number, in order to obtain a license. As the social security card has no security features, it is but a trivial matter to forge a copy. To obtain a legitimate card, a person is required by the Social Security Administration to provide photo identification. The SSA does not, however, restrict this to government-issued identification… An ID card procured online for a cost of $5 will suffice. Armed with a birth certificate and social security card, an individual may obtain a valid driver’s license in another person’s name. With the driver’s license and the birth certificate, a valid U.S. passport can be obtained. As you can see, the current system has gaping flaws in its security, but is Real ID any better?
“Proponents of Real ID would have us to believe that this new form of identification would be ‘more secure.’” states Donna Holt. “This is a preposterous notion, because as experts have warned, creating a single identification standard would actually increase the likelihood of identity and even asset theft. Currently, each of our 50 states has its own driver’s licenses and identification creation standards. It is much more difficult to accurately duplicate such diverse forms of identification than it would be to duplicate only a single one across America. Furthermore, with the plethora of information that will be required on these new proposed identification cards, when one of those are stolen, personal financial, medical and other information will be at extreme risk. This is a major concern of women’s groups, and the public generally. Real ID cannot protect against identity theft. In fact, it actually increases the amount of information at risk if stolen, or if an ID card would be lost or otherwise fell into the wrong hands…The employees of a private company will have unfettered access to your personal data. With access to your social security number, date of birth and mother’s maiden name, just imagine what they could do.” (Holt)
Serving as a flag of warning to widespread dissemination of the aforementioned personal information is the death of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. She was shot to death outside her apartment by Robert Bardo, an obsessed fan who had obtained her home address from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The states DMVs collect numerous types of personal data on their customers. The increase in data collection draws concerns about who has access to the information. Prior to ten years ago, it was common practice for roughly two-thirds of the state DMVs to offer this information to whoever asked for it. Some states charged a nominal fee while others made names, birth dates, addresses, phone numbers, license plate numbers, photographs, and Social Security Numbers available for free. Some states also pro- actively sold this information to private companies; New York made $17M in one year by selling license information to marketing companies.(Egelman)
Interestingly enough, the federal government cannot force the states to abide by the Real ID act, so they mandate that state driver’s licenses will no longer be accepted by federal agencies. If a state chooses not to comply, their older, non-conforming licenses may still be used in-state for the purpose of driving; but travel by airplane or train will not be allowed, since the TSA will not accept the older licenses as valid identification. Those states who do comply with the act will be rewarded with federal grants. If a person lives in a state where real ID is not offered, they will not be allowed to leave the country, as they will be unable to obtain a passport.
What, then may be counted upon to provide a secure form of identification? It is the opinion of many experts that the introduction of a strong biometric identifier into birth certificates would do the trick. As fingerprints may be removed or changed, and eyes may be manipulated, the only constant identifier is DNA, and the only way to associate a DNA sample with a person is to mandate that such a sample be taken at birth and incorporated into the certificate. This, however, raises serious privacy concerns which are beyond the scope of this article.
In conclusion, there are many obstacles to realizing a “perfect” identification system, and the American government’s reliance on Real ID to prevent ID fraud is perhaps as laughable as their suggestion to use duct tape to stay safe during biochemical or nuclear emergencies. We must, of course, consider revising our current identification standards, but without compromising personal privacy to the extent of that entailed in the Real ID act. Unless government officials realize that all identity documents are subject to manipulation, or unless American citizens refuse to accept Real ID, we will see a nationwide premeditated murder of personal privacy in upcoming months. O brave new world, awake! See what thy apathy hast wrought!
Ainsworth, Alan. 75 Arguments: An Anthology. Boston: McGrawHill, 2008
In an unknown section of this book, an author analyses the politics of hip-hop, and how big-name rap artists must finance grass-roots movements to reclaim the lost generation of young American-Africans from the warped views they and others hold regarding their proper place in society. The author here references the plight of American Africans in establishing strong leadership when an obscene number of their race and generation are imprisoned, or have lost their voting rights after committing felonies.
Document fraud is on the rise. Real ID will prevent such fraud and assist with identification of terrorists and illegal immigrants. Estimated costs for implementation of Real ID have been slashed, federal government has appropriated 80 million to help offset costs. Americans want a better ID system and Real ID is the answer.
Egelman, Serge, and Lorrie F. Cranor. “The Real ID Act: Fixing Identity Documents with Duct Tape.” I/S 2.1 (2006): 149-72. 11 Dec. 2008 <http://www.is- journal.org/V02I01/2ISJLPTOC.pdf>.
This paper carefully analyzes the various aspects of the Real ID act, how it both solves and creates more problems with the current identification “crisis” in America. He covers the driver’s licensing policies of the 50 states, the ease with which one may obtain fraudulent identification under the current system, and how the Real ID act will effect the privacy of citizens.
Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2000.
The Rise and Fall of New York City crime is written about in this chapter. The beginning focuses on Bernhard Goetz, a slender man in his thirties who became a hero after shooting several thugs on a subway. The chapter covers what caused the rise in New York City crime and the social and psychological aspects of how the epidemic was remedied. According to the chapter, the primary way in which crime was lessened was by arresting massive amounts of people for seemingly small crimes, often discovering other crimes in their past. The city also sought the appearance of perfection, not allowing bums to urinate in public, painting over graffiti painted train cars, etc. Theoritically, this was supposed to help improve the appearance of the town, psychologically deterring crime.
Holt, Donna. “TOP 10 Reasons for Rejecting Dangerous ID (the so-called Real ID scam).” The John Birch Society. 6 Dec. 2008. 8 Dec. 2008 <http://www.jbs.org/index.php/component/ content/article/974-userblogs/4247>.
According to Donna Holt, the dangers of the Real ID act are near and many. She sets forth 10 reasons to reject Real ID, and analyzes each reason: It will cost the states (i.e. the taxpayers) too much money, elite foreign corporations will obtain obscene profits, immigration control has other answers, security is actually decreased by Real ID proposal, SSN connection to identification is a violation of federal law, protection from terrorism should not penalize law-abiding Americans, Congress is exceeding their
“mandate” abilities with Real ID, Congress is exceeding its “legislative” abilities, Real ID is void on its face, and the Real ID Act makes your state issued driver’s license a national ID card.