Flawed federal ID law overburdens states

YEARS AGO, Congress passed and President Bush signed the REAL ID Act at
the behest of the 9/11 Commission. The idea behind the act is to combat
terrorism by strengthening the security of driver’s licenses and
state-issued identification cards.

The secure and accurate ID cards and licenses are supposed to be
designed to make sure terrorists are not easily able to establish
residence and move about the country at will. Foolproof ID cards also
could be used to assure employers that the people they hire are in the
country legally.

Despite these positive reasons for establishing a better means
of identifying Americans, there are some major problems with the REAL
ID Act.

The foremost is that the measure places all of the burden on the states without any federal funding for the program.

In California, the cost of complying with a national standard
for driver’s licenses is expected to be at least $500 million,
according to DMV Director George Valverde.

The process of issuing the new licenses, which must begin by
May 11, 2008, is sure to be cumbersome as well as costly. The act
requires that every person with a driver’s license gets a new one. That
means 23 million Californians will have to make a trip to the DMV with
extensive proof of identification and wait in line.

The new licenses will have the owner’s name and address on
them, and the law requires that a person’s name and address be placed
in databases that could be hacked, giving stalkers the information they
need to threaten people.

Richard Holober, executive director of the San Mateo-based Consumer Federation of California,
fears that the REAL ID Act will create new opportunities for identity theft with a one-stop shop for thieves.

These concerns were expressed at a "town-hall" forum in Davis.
It was the only such hearing scheduled to collect testimony from
concerned citizens in the 60-day comment period before proposed
regulations can be written into law.

Clearly, more hearings are needed to devise a workable ID
program. Stalking fears were not even considered by the Homeland
Security Panel when it put together its proposal, according to panel
member Jonathan Frankel.

What other obvious problems have been overlooked by Homeland Security
and Congress? Too many steps to fight terrorism have been taken to
hastily. The federal ID program is one of them and needs more work
before it is implemented.

Making driver’s licenses more secure makes sense. Licenses are
often used to establish identity by many public and private agencies
for any number of purposes.

But one has to wonder why the federal government chose to use 50
different state agencies to establish secure driver’s licenses and ID

It would have made more sense to establish a secure Social
Security card for identification, superseding the current widespread
use of driver’s licenses for that purpose.

Washington already has a system and bureaucracy in place that issues
Social Security cards. Why not make the necessary changes to assure
that the cards are accurate and difficult to reproduce?

A secure Social Security card would cover more people.
Virtually everyone has one, while there are tens of millions of
Americans who don’t have driver’s licenses.

Unfortunately, it appears that it is too late to rewrite the REAL ID
Act to establish secure Social Security cards instead of driver’s
licenses. But the least the federal government could do is fund its
mandate instead of passing the buck to state governments.