Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Real ID Act a real intrusion on rights, privacy

With the announcement last month by Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff of the final implementing regulations for the much-delayed Real ID Act, the debate over this thinly veiled national identification card project moved into high gear.
The federal government for several years now has been fighting a guerrilla action with citizen groups and a number of state legislatures over imposing on the states and the citizenry this privacy-intrusive and costly mandate. With the announcement Jan. 11 of the final regulations, the debate is fully joined and pits those who support the principle of states’ rights against the legions of Big Government advocates.
Big Government advocates are personified by the current Bush administration, favoring central control of virtually every facet of activity in our society, from education to transportation and from the plumbing in our bathrooms to the bulbs in our lamps. While the Real ID debate shares some elements with its sister debate concerning voter ID, mixing the two as if two sides of the same coin dilutes the host of fundamental constitutional concerns and responsibilities affected by the Real ID Act program now being forced down the throats of the states.
Let’s leave aside for the moment the underlying federalism question — where does the federal government get the power to dictate to the states who can get a driver’s license? — to focus on civil liberties that would be undercut by the Real ID Act.
If, as proposed in the law, a person must have a Real ID Act-compliant card in order to access a federal building, access any regulated or interstate mode of transportation, or obtain any federal benefit, then we have surrendered to the federal government (that is, federal bureaucrats) the power to deny citizens all manner of activities guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Consider:
A person not possessing a Real ID Act-compliant identification card could not enter any federal building, or an office of his or her congressman or senator or the U.S. Capitol. This effectively denies that person their fundamental rights to assembly and to petition the government as guaranteed in the First Amendment.
A person seeking to exercise their right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment could henceforth be denied that ability if they do not possess a precious Real ID card, because the federal bureaucracy known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives probably will decree that such a form of identification is necessary to meet federal requirements for purchasing a firearm.
Very possibly the Real ID card will be required in order to vote in any election for federal office.
A veteran may be denied access to a VA hospital because he or she lacks the requisite Real ID card, perhaps because they did not have the money required to purchase it or because they could not locate the background forms the Department of Homeland Security required to obtain one.
A business traveler, unable to afford to travel by private jet, is denied the ability to make a living because their job requires air travel and they do not have a Real ID card — even though they demonstrably pose no danger whatsoever to their fellow travelers.
Even though individual states, such as Georgia, may provide greater legal protection for private information of its residents than other states or the federal government, this will mean nothing in the Real ID Act world, because all the data under that law will be subject to the lower federal standards, thereby subjecting residents to a higher likelihood of identity theft than they would risk under the laws of their state.
And, they would have no recourse to correct erroneous data, or prevent identity theft pursuant to the Real ID regulations.
On the other side of the ledger, arguing in favor of this intrusive and expensive federal mandate, are hollow promises of “security” — not freedom or liberty — but “safety,” the promise of which trumps all else in this post-9/11 world, at least for this Congress and this administration. I, for one, commend the state of Georgia and those other states that are standing against this assault on states’ rights and the Bill of Rights.

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