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Is REAL ID Ready for America?

By Micah Hanks - September 17, 2007 12:00 AM

In an Executive Order titled Establishing the President's Board on Safeguarding American's Civil Liberties released on August 27, 2004, the following statement regarding government obligation to ensure privacy to Americans is made:

"The United States Government has a solemn obligation, and shall continue fully, to protect the legal rights of all Americans, including freedoms, civil liberties, and information privacy guaranteed by Federal law, in the effective performance of national security and homeland security functions."

The above statement was used by Jim Harper, Director of Information Studies with the Libertarian Cato Institute, at a hearing presented before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs titled Understanding the Realities of REAL ID: A Review of Efforts to Secure Driver's Licenses and Identification Cards on March 26, 2007. "Many different federal laws and policies seek to foster privacy and data security, even in the context of national security programs," he stated. This seems ironic when compared with the means by which the government plans to maintain the proposed REAL ID system, where national driver's licenses would be issued to all citizens, a variety of personal information stored within.

The Federal Government hopes to issue these ID cards to all Americans by late 2009, whereby a system of electronic federal databases would verify personal documents like birth certificates, which must be presented before the applicant receives his or her card. One such database the system would rely upon is the Electronic Verification of Vital Events, or EVVE, a system created by The National Association of Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS) to provide a single interface for verifying birth and death records. However, EVVE is currently in pilot form, according to statements made by Senator Joseph Lieberman at the same March 2007 hearing. He added that, "NAPHSIS issued a report in January 2006 stating that the EVVE system could take as long as seven years to be fully operational."

Another system slated for use with REAL ID is the Systemic Alienation Verification for Entitlement, or SAVE system, created by the Department of Homeland Security and noted among those against the REAL ID act for lacking in efficiency on many counts. Senator Lieberman commented that the system is "notorious for containing erroneous, incomplete, or outdated information." And yet, perhaps of greater concern is the suggested implementation of a State Department system used to verify U.S. passports, which as of March 2007, did not even exist, further prompting one to ask how, if we are to be issued National ID Cards by 2009, might they serve their purpose with no definite target date by which their support systems will be created or capable of functioning reliably?

Due to the fact that its existing support systems still have bugs to be worked out, various security risks would no doubt accompany REAL IDs also. As opposed to having limited personal information readable on the surface of the cards, the act proposes that a variety of information be stored on a two-dimensional bar code on the back (much like current state driver's licenses). Interestingly, a Privacy Impact Assessment for the REAL ID Act made by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security just prior to the March 27 hearing stated that "There has been little research on methods to secure the privacy of the data contained on the machine-readable strip," going on to say that only future technological advancements would make the information "only able to be read by law enforcement officials." The implication here is that the information might, for the time being, remain accessible to those outside law enforcement, creating significant risks involving ID Theft. "Notably absent... is a requirement to encrypt the data held electronically on the actual ID card," noted Senator Lieberman on the matter. "Equipment capable of reading the Machine Readable Zone on the back of most drivers' licenses is readily available. If we're going to spend billions of dollars enhancing the security of the rest of the identification system, why leave this gaping hole?"

Yes, Senator Lieberman said billions. All technical matters aside, the real hound in the rabbit hole with this argument is the cost. According to the Office of Management and Budget, proposed REAL ID regulations will cost upwards of $23 billion dollars to enact, laying the burden on individual states, and bringing DMV offices nationwide to a standstill.

REAL IDs may one day be a great weapon against counter-terror, as well as a more effective way to protect Americans from the risks of having our personal information stolen by implementing a stronger, nationally enforced identification system. However, with all the technical problems REAL IDs face presently, they only seem to nullify the main principle upon which they should be grounded; our Government's obligation to ensure privacy to American citizens, hence the question: is REAL ID ready for America?

SOURCES

For complete transcripts of the March 2007 hearing before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, follow the link below:

http://www.senate.gov/~govt-aff/index.cfm?Fuseaction=Hearings.Detail&HearingID=430

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6 Comments

a version of realID is already in use
OK, the 1/2 % of you Americans who have any association with the military forces, check the back of your ID card: that's the bar-coded bit, and your SSAN is in plain text. Now check the front: the machine readable bar on the left has a chunk of information about you, and the gold pad contains the rfid chip that allows you to login to the networks. Also allows anyone who is watching for your id to know where you or the card is when it's used to log in. Wonder how much this system cost? and it got implemented in a matter of months.

I don't think so.
In fact we know that many countries have such 'civil ID' cards, with various levels of data on them. Remember, that even the old soviet union had internal passports that had to be presented whenever asked. Remember how the old South Africa had such a 'pass' system too. There are also many present day examples too. But where I see the problem in the States is that they would do it half-assed, and then there would be counterfeits, phoney data presented to get them (thus grababe in, garbage out). And can anyone really imagine all those spoilt brat american teenagers being responsible enough to carry around an ID card, at all times? I don't think so. How much blocking up on the police stations etc. when then bring in all the bums, and junkies, and teenagers without cards? How many 'sanctuary' cities would refuse to enforce it too, the way they don't even ask in people are illegal aliens even now? I don't think they could even enforce national civil ID cards. They don't even have a clue about how many illegal immigrants are in the country, and the US is too chaotic and soft to enforce suchlike.

CAC for Civilians
Those of us associated with the military have basicly waived any right to privacy, especially if we have a security clearance. I'm not so sure the government is going to get all legal residents of these United States to do the same... and then there is the cost...

Assuming an initial cost of $200 and a maintenance cost of $10 a year per card, were looking at an initial cost of 60 Billion and roughly 3 Billion a year to keep the program going once everyone had cards. If these CAC cards replaced drivers licenses then we'd have to subract some savings, however I have a hard time believing it would have that great an impact.

Well let's assume for a moment that were willing to spend the money and risk some privacy
The model to follow would be that of the Defense Department, which has just such a program in place.

The first step would be to set sunset dates on traditional drivers licenses and force people to get the new cards to replace them.

The second step would be to require the new cards whenever someone receives government aid or wants to travel via airlines.

The third step would be to require all employers to scan the cards for thier employees to insure that they were eligible to work, registered for the draft, not wanted by the police, ect..

1.5% of the population is already using them... how much longer before all of us have them?

well let's
Controlling a self selected group like the military is very different than trying to control an chaotic unruly undisciplined spoilt people like all those i mentioned above. What are you going to do with all the millions who won't carry the card?

Pretty much everyone has a social security number and a drivers licence already...
If these IDs replace drivers licences and SSN cards, people would no longer legally be able to drive and at some stage it would mean they could no longer legally work. What percentage of the public doesn't work, drive, fly or recieve any type of public assistance?

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