Friday, February 16, 2007

From the ACLU

Real ID: Real Nightmare

Why Connecticut Should Take A Stand Against Real ID.

What is Real ID?

Congress passed the Real ID Act in May 2005 when congressional leaders inserted the legislation in a “must pass” Iraq War/Tsunami Relief supplemental funding bill. Congress did not hold a single hearing on the bill. The Real ID Act federalizes state driver’s licenses by imposing a broad array of regulations on how they are issued and verified – turning them into, for all practical purposes, America’s first-ever national identity cards. Every American will need this new federal identity document in order to enter federal buildings or fly on commercial airlines. With a growing number of states refusing to comply, airlines will face economic hardship if they are forced to refuse access to an entire state’s residents. States have until May 2008 to comply with the legislation. However, the Department of Homeland Security has yet to issue final rules, so no state knows how to comply. Driver licenses should be used to ensure drivers know the rules of the road and have insurance, not to create a national identification card used to track personal data and expand the serious risks of identity theft.

A Real Nightmare for State Government.

Under the Real ID Act, all 245 million existing driver’s license holders will have to apply in person for new licenses. Connecticut will have to remake its driver license, restructure its computer database, and – perhaps most difficult of all – verify the “issuance, validity and completeness” of every identity document presented at DMV offices, including birth certificates, social security cards, utility bills, immigration documents, and any other document that is part of the application. The law does not provide DMV with a way to compel any document issuer, such as utility companies, to cooperate with that verification. If DMV cannot verify documents, citizens will not get licenses.

Beware: The Real Cost of Real ID.

The National Governors’ Association, National Conference of State Legislators, and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators have all found that Real ID would cost at least $11 billion to implement. Because Congress ordered but did not pay for these mandates, fees on individuals applying for driver’s licenses will inevitably rise, perhaps steeply. Maine - a state with a population one-third the size of Connecticut’s - has estimated its Real ID cost to be $185 million over 5 years.

A Real Nightmare for Citizens.

Many people who are citizens will not be able to get a Real ID. Some have lost personal records to fire, floods or other natural disasters (such as Hurricane Katrina). Across the country, government offices containing these records have been destroyed, putting millions at risk of being unable to track down birth documents from 30, 40, 50 or 60 years ago. Millions of foreign-born U.S. citizens come from countries where no birth records are kept or are impossible to obtain. Some people do not even know where they were born, and some were born at home. Those who are elderly, disabled, poor, homeless or who have mental health issues will be directly affected, since many do not have access or the resources to obtain birth certificates or other approved documents. Without a Real ID, they may not be able to get essential public and private services.

A Real Nightmare for Consumers.

Real ID is a giant, unfunded federal mandate that will create enormous costs for states and consumers. Real ID will mean higher fees, increased taxes, long lines and bureaucratic nightmares for all of us. It will force multiple trips to the DMV office as well as hours on the phone trying to obtain original documents, imposing a substantial burden on all of us in cost and time off from work. And because Congress did not allocate funding for state implementation, the costs likely will be passed on to consumers through fees for new and replacement licenses.

A Real Nightmare of Identity Theft

DMV will be storing for up to 10 years copies of every birth certificate, Social Security card and other documents used to establish identity. Real ID requires all states to share a single database, making driver’s license information accessible from tens of thousands of locations across the country for the taking. Unlike the past, this database will now contain critical information such as your Social Security number, a gold mine for identity thieves. The growing consensus among security experts is that Real ID’s creation of a single interlinked database will be a one-stop-shop for personal data, making each of us a sitting duck for identity theft. In addition, if RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology is used, driver licenses can be read by anyone in close proximity who has an RFID reader.

A Real Nightmare of Privacy Invasion.

The Real IDs must include a “common machine-readable technology” that will allow for easy, computerized transfer of the data on the cards. That will make it easy for anybody in private industry to snap up the data on these Real IDs. Already, bars often swipe licenses to collect personal data on customers – but that will prove to be just the tip of the iceberg as every convenience store learns to grab that data and sell it to Choicepoint (a private for-profit data mining company) for a dime. Even if the states and federal government successfully protect the data, it could be harvested by the private sector, which will build up a parallel database on Americans and put it up for sale, not subject even to the limited privacy rules in effect for the government.

Real ID Creates a National Identity Card

The standardized national driver’s licenses created by Real ID will become an “internal passport” that will increasingly be used to track and control United States citizens’ movements and activities. There will be a demand that you “show your papers.” And there is no recourse when the information entered on you is false. The Real ID database will inevitably, over time, become the repository for more data on individuals, and will be drawn on for an ever-wider set of purposes. Citizens who cannot obtain Real ID will encounter increasing set of barriers as the card is demanded before obtaining public and private services.

Real ID Turns DMV Offices into Immigration Enforcement Agencies.

The Act bars non-citizens from receiving driver licenses unless they can prove their lawful immigration status and identity. Real ID turns DMV offices into sub-branches of the immigration service, forcing clerks to decide who can or cannot be given a license - despite the complexity of our immigration laws, which rival that of our tax code. Training for motor vehicle employees could not possibly cover all of the technicalities of immigration law. Moreover, citizens who speak with an accent or are not fluent in English (who may “look” or “sound” “foreign”) may have their documents scrutinized with suspicion and be treated as suspects.

Real ID Will Not Protect Us From Terrorism

Determined terrorists will always be able to obtain fraudulent documents. Moreover, all of the 9/11 hijackers entered the country legally and would have qualified for driver licenses under the Real ID Act.

Other States Are Rejecting Real ID.

On January 29, Maine became the first state to reject Real ID, when its legislature passed a resolution refusing to implement Real ID. Similar measures are under consideration in Arizona, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Missouri, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.


Connecticut is not ready to implement Real ID. Without federal rules (and funding) necessary to implement the law and with Congress looking to fix or repeal Real ID in 2007, Connecticut should not pass piecemeal legislation this year. We should wait until the 2008 legislative session to take next steps.

For more information visit: or call the ACLU-CT at 860-247-9823, x219.

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