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More state governments defy congress and reject Real ID

ars technica | April 10, 2007
Ryan Paul

The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted last week to block implementation of the federal government's controversial Real ID act. Since New Hampshire Governor John Lynch does not intend to veto the Real ID rejection bill, it will pass if approved by the state senate. Characterized by New Hampshire Representative Sherman Packard as "the worst piece of blackmail to come out of the federal government," the Real ID Act creates a set of uniform standards for state-issued ID cards, and mandates the construction of a centralized national database to store information on American citizens.

Included in a 2005 military spending bill, the Real ID Act passed with virtually no discussion or debate in the US Congress. Heavily criticized by concerned citizens, civil liberties groups, and state government agencies, the Real ID act is opposed by over 600 organizations including the National Governors Association. Although the Real ID act was originally written as a means of improving identification security, critics argue that the act increases the risk of identity theft without providing any tangible security benefits. To make matters worse, congress vastly underestimated implementation costs and many state governments now fear that Real ID compliance is a financial impossibility. Despite this, state identification cards that don't comply with the act by the December 2009 deadline will not be accepted or considered valid at airports or federal buildings.

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Idaho and Maine have already passed bills rejecting implementation of the Real ID act, and similar proposed bills are being evaluated in South Carolina and Arkansas as well as New Hampshire. ACLU state legislative department director Charlie Mitchell says that this is just the beginning of a "tidal wave of rebellion against Real ID." If enough state governments refuse to comply with the requirements of the Real ID act, it is likely that congress will have to reevaluate the entire plan. "Across the nation, local lawmakers from both parties are rejecting the federal government's demand to undermine their constituents privacy and civil liberties with a massive unfunded mandate," says Mitchell. "Congress must revisit the Real ID Act and fix this real mess."

Although the standards established by the Real ID act would make it harder for illegal immigrants to obtain fraudulent identification records, doing so would have little discernible impact on national security. When considering the potential security implications of the Real ID act, it is worth noting that the 9/11 hijackers were all legal residents with proper identification.

Meanwhile, critics worry that by facilitating the creation of a centralized database of citizen records and by requiring state identification cards to include a machine-readable mechanism, the Real ID act provides identity thieves with unprecedented access to private information.

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