UC Davis hosts town hall meeting on REAL ID Act

by Ben Pulliam, California Aggie

Speakers voice concerns over new identity cards

Lobbyists, private citizens and students voiced their concerns over the
proposed REAL ID program at a town hall-style meeting at Freeborn Hall
on Tuesday.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security fielded
questions about the REAL ID Act from speakers at the event and comments
posted online. The town hall meeting was the only of its kind in the
nation and was meant to gauge public opinion and gather suggestions
regarding the REAL ID program.

The REAL ID Act, a federal identification card program
developed to bolster national security, was signed by President Bush in
2005. The act would require states to verify driver licenses and
identification cards. Verification would require citizens to appear in
person at a state office or California Department of Motor Vehicles
office with a birth certificate, current U.S. passport, Social Security
card and proof of address. This process would span over five years and
begin in May 2008.

Tuesday’s meeting was part of the 60-day campaign that began
Mar. 8 to include public comments into the implementation of the REAL
ID plan. Although the act has already been passed by Congress and was
supported by the 9-11 Commission, support for the act was sparse at the
meeting. Although attendance was lower than many expected, those
present roundly criticized the act due to its cost, security and

Many of the speakers making formal comments voiced concerns
over the privacy and security of the new identification cards. Under
the REAL ID Act, states would scan digital copies of verification
documents to be stored in a national database. At the meeting,
questions were raised about the potential for identity theft with
information being stored in a centralized location.

Richard Holober, a representative from the Consumer Federation of
California, called the national database a "one-stop shop" for identity

"You’re compromising the documents [of] 240 million Americans if the system is broken into," Holober said.

Another major concern voiced at the meeting was the cost of
implementing the REAL ID program. Mike Mirando, director of
Communications at the California DMV, said the cost of implementing the
REAL ID Act in California would cost approximately $500 million.
Nationally, the program will cost an estimated $23 billion.

Several attendees at the meeting, including Mirando, said the five-year
time frame for implementing the REAL ID Act was unrealistic.

Geraldine Hill, a motor vehicle field representative with the
California DMV, said the DMV is incapable of handling such a massive

"With our current budget, things are already becoming more and
more difficult every day," Hill said. "I believe in the purpose of REAL
ID, but I think this is misguided."

At one point, the meeting was interrupted by a group of
approximately 50 protesters chanting, "REAL ID sounds like a racist
threat to me!" The chant lasted about five minutes before the
protesters left.

The REAL ID Act was not without its supporters, however. James
Staudenraus with the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License praised
the act as being a useful tool in fighting terrorism as the
requirements for getting a driver license would become more stringent.
Additionally, the new licenses would become more difficult to
counterfeit than current licenses.

"The driver’s license is a key tool for terrorists,"
Staudenraus said. "Securing it would be the easiest thing to do in the
War on Terror."

Walter Stanley, a sophomore geology major at Sacramento City
College, dismissed the notion that the REAL ID program would fight

Stanley, who said he missed work to speak at the meeting,
argued, "We’re still being manipulated by 9/11. We can’t keep giving up
our rights for security."

Mirando said, despite its flaws, the REAL ID Act has merit.

"We’re working with the Department of Homeland Security to find
some common ground and resolve the way in which REAL ID is
implemented," Mirando said.