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Papers Please

President Bush is being stonewalled, not by the compliant Democratically controlled congress, but by the states, in his attempt to implement a National ID Card. But why is there so much pushback? Wouldn’t it solve a lot of problems? That is debatable, but at what cost? And specifically, what is it about THIS particular card that draws the ire of many civil rights advocates?

First, by Civil Rights Advocates, I am not speaking as I should be about every single citizen in the United States. Unfortunately it appears that that ship has sailed, when people are more concerned about their individual civil rights than what they can get back in the form of a few extra bucks in their bank accounts. Instead, I am talking about the people like the EFF, CCR and ACLU who still look at our individual civil rights as something to be stringently defended and not handed over to a tyranical government.

The story of the REAL ID Act started in the winter of 2004, as Congress worked to pass legislation to implement the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission. During those debates, Rep. Sensenbrenner and others argued for the inclusion of a number of restrictive provisions that opponents argued were anti-immigrant. But 9-11 Commission members spoke out against these provisions, arguing that they would not make any significant contribution to public safety and security.

After extensive public debate, as well as several hearings, a few of the harshest measures were removed from the final version of the legislation. The resulting draft eventually was passed by Congress as the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

But in 2005, Rep. Sensenbrenner quickly reintroduced the controversial provisions he had removed. And on February 10, the House of Representatives passed Sensenbrenner’s full package.

A month later, that same legislation was attached to a huge emergency appropriations bill to fund the U.S’ military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the The Act is Division B of an act of the United States Congress titled Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005. The House passed this massive funding bill without any public debate or hearings.

When the debate shifted to the Senate, the REAL ID Act was not included. But when the bill went to the Conference Committee, House supporters pushed strongly for the provisions to be included.

During debates, a couple of the most nefarious proposals – such as one that would have created private bounty hunters to enforce immigration law – were removed. But most of the troubling provisions remained and became law.

Unfortunately for the states, they were being told to comply with the act even through the Federal Government had not yet defined the parameters for compliance! Plans for compliance had to be started with open ended requirements in order to meet the deadline while the government still had not detailed them out.

Well, recently they did. And here’s what is known about the requirements:

• If implemented, the Real ID Act could establish an enormous electronic infrastructure that government and law enforcement officials – or whoever else hacks in – could use to track Americans’ activities and movements.

• The final regulations do not set rules for the security of Americans’ personal information. The Real ID statute requires that each state provide an unspecified array of government officials in all other states and territories access to personal information stored in DMV databases – such as Social Security numbers, photos and copies of birth certificates. The Department of Homeland Security essentially leaves it up to the states to determine how to protect privacy and security. This means sensitive, personal information would only be as safe as the DMV or state office with the weakest security system.

• The law also mandates that all driver’s licenses and ID cards have a “machine-readable zone” that would facilitate tracking by the government and private sector. Real IDs would leave a digital fingerprint whenever swiped, scanned or read, which would allow the federal government, or anyone with a reader, to collect an enormous amount of information about people’s activities and interests. Encrypting the information on Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses would reduce some of the privacy threats, but the Department of Homeland Security has refused to require encryption, fearing that it would prevent easy access to the information contained in the barcodes.

• The final regulations place no limits on what types of information could be stored in the Real ID’s machine-readable zone. Nor do the regulations prohibit third-party access to such information – meaning any business equipped with a reader could capture personal information and use it to develop customer “lifestyle profiles” or simply sell the information to other businesses or to the federal government.
“Essentially, the Real ID Act puts our personal information up for sale,” Lieberman said. “It is the equivalent of an EZ-Pass for identity thieves. Under this law, the federal government conceivably could learn what books people read, what sorts of contraception they use or what medications they are prescribed.”

• The Real ID Act imposes an enormous unfunded mandate upon the states. Despite a nearly $10 billion cost estimate, the federal government has set aside only $40 million to help states pay for implementing the law. The Department of Homeland Security has made it clear that it expects individuals and state governments to pay for the costs of Real ID. At a time when New York is facing a $4 billion budget deficit, the Spitzer administration has estimated that implementation of the Real ID Act would cost New York tens of millions of dollars annually and require 10 new DMV offices.

Now people are suggesting that this card could be used for access to medical care and to help prevent the creation of meth labs! It will keep terrorists from flying or driving and stop illegal immigration in its tracks!

Except, that it won’t. Many states already issue driver licenses to illegal aliens and as the ‘War on Drugs’ has taught us, people will still find a way to do what they want to do and get around laws that seek to prevent an activity from occurring.

Worse, it creates a single large database of information about everyone that can then be either lost/stolen or sold off to private companies.

But the real problem comes down to requiring individuals to carry an ID with them, one that BROADCASTS this information into the air so that it can be read from a distance, while travelling within the confines of the United States. Citizens of states that do not comply will have to get a passport to use any federal services and fly and, as detailed previously, in the future have access to medicine, healthcare and any other service that the federal government wishes to institute its requirement for now or in the future.

Many areas of the country are even starting to play with cameras monitoring the actions of the citizenry. Even at a time when the country that uses this approach to surveillance is having second thoughts.

In reality, thanks to support from both sides of the aisle, you will have to make sure you carry your papers around, especially if you look hispanic or are a member of a subversive, un-American group, like say the Green Party, Greenpeace, Earth First! and Amnesty International, or you could be giving up your rights to habeas corpus.

EDIT: Thanks to information provided after publication, I have discovered that RFID has been removed from the final requirements for now. It is to be replaced with two unencrypted bar codes.

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