November 4, 2008
Panelists with the Stop Real ID Coalition are calling for repeal of the Real ID Act of 2005, which they said violates states’ rights and the U.S. Constitution and creates a national identification card that gives the government the ability to monitor citizens and invade their privacy.
But Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who helped write the bill with the House Judiciary Committee, said if the law had been in place before Sept. 11, 2001, the 19 terrorists could not have boarded the planes that they crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“We use driver’s licenses as identification documents, because there is no national identity card, and I would submit that we would have a greater push for a national ID card in the Congress if we didn’t have Real ID,” Sensenbrenner told CNSNews.com.
“(Real ID) just firms up the state driver’s licenses as a way to prevent a loophole in the system that 19 terrorists were able to exploit to pull off the biggest domestic tragedy in the history of our country.”
He also said the Real ID Act is based on the recommendations of the bi-partisan 9/11 Commission.
“The reason this is necessary is that the 9/11 Commission found that the 19 hijackers had valid driver’s licenses issued by five states and they all had multiple driver’s licenses,” Sensenbrenner said.
“There are two principles involved in Real ID. One is: one person, one license; and the other is: no driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants or people who are not legally present in the United States,” he said.
Panelists at the press conference were billed as “diverse” and “bipartisan” and included representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, American Center for Law and Justice, American Policy Center, Liberty Coalition, and Republican state Reps. Sam Rohrer of Pennsylvania and Charles Key of Oklahoma.
They presented a long list of reasons why they opposed the legislation, including the claim that Real ID would force states to comply with the law, which Key said inspired him to draw up his own state amendment to challenge it.
“Key’s amendment draws a line in the sand and tells the government, you must cease and desist from threatening the sovereignty of the states,” said Mark Lerner, co-founder of the Stop Real ID Coalition.
Sensenbrenner, however, said that Real ID does not force states to comply.
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“The Real ID is consistent with federalism, because it is voluntary,” Sensenbrenner said. “However, if the state chooses not to comply with Real ID, then their citizens have to get some type of federally accepted ID for federal purposes,” including for boarding aircraft.
The law mandates that the federal government cannot accept a state driver’s license for “any official purpose” unless it meets the minimum requirements of Real ID – those rules require, among other things, state entities that issue driver’s licenses to confirm the authenticity of documents needed to get a license.
Panelists also claimed that the Real ID law would create a central database with “biometric” information that the government and the agencies that operate it can share at will, even with the governments of other countries.
“That is absolutely false,” Sensenbrenner said. “Real ID does not create a new database. What Real ID does is it requires states to check applicants against databases that are already maintained by the other states.
“And this is the same system that has been used for almost 20 years to check out whether someone who applies for a commercial driver’s license has a valid commercial driver’s license issued by another state,” he added.
Some panelists said they opposed the Real ID Act, because it infringes on people’s privacy by requiring driver’s licenses to include personal information, such as political or religious affiliation.
But according to the law, the information required only includes an individual’s full legal name, date of birth, gender, driver’s license number, a digital photo, address of principle residence, and the individual’s signature. The law does call for “physical security features” and “common machine-readable technology” to make checking data between states possible.
“That’s the kind of information that has been on people’s driver’s licenses for as long as I can remember,” Sensenbrenner said, adding that making state driver’s licenses compatible is necessary to make the system work. “There has to be some kind of uniformity involved so that the databases match up.”
But panelists painted a picture of a much more sinister system that puts private information about U.S. citizens in the hands of corporations, or what Rohrer described as “big business entities.”
“That’s a joke,” Sensenbrenner said. “The 9/11 Commission was not in the pocket of corporations. Real ID came out of a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, purely and simply. And the 9/11 Commission said implicitly that false identification documents are as important to terrorists as explosives.”
In fact, he added, Mohammed Atta, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, could have been thwarted from carrying out his plans if the Real ID Act was in place. The law says temporary licenses should be issued to people who are only in the country temporarily, including the kind of student visa Atta carried.
“The reason he was able to use his Florida driver’s license to get on the plane is that he got a six-year driver’s license for a six-month visa,” Sensenbrenner said.
The coalition said that nearly half the states have spoken out against the Real ID Act of 2005 and some, including Oklahoma, have said they will not comply.
Although the May 2008 deadline for states to sign on has passed, the Department of Homeland Security reports that states that request an extension will have until Dec. 31, 2009 to meet federal requirements for state driver’s licenses. Some states could qualify for an extension date of May 10, 2011.