I haven’t made much mention of the Real ID act before other than stating that it is a plan to implement a meaningless identification system. It has no value, provides no security or safety, and increases costs to states as an unfunded federal mandate – meaning you and I pay more in state taxes with no reprieve in federal tax payments. In what can only be described as an unexpected move, the now more liberal Senate is implementing changes and ammendments which will slow down and perhaps ultimately stop the Real ID act by limiting the allowable uses of the federally mandated identification card. Maybe I’m just out-of-touch, but I don’t typically expect liberals to make moves that will reduce how much the government interferes with our private lives. However, that’s the movement that is spreading through the Senate right now.
During Wednesday’s floor debate over a massive immigration bill, Real ID foes managed to preserve an amendment to prohibit the forthcoming identification card from being used for mandatory employment verification, signaling that the political winds have shifted from when the law was overwhelmingly enacted two years ago.
The anti-Real ID amendment is backed by two Montana Democrats, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, who say the digital ID cards represent an unreasonable government intrusion into Americans’ private lives. In April, Montana became one of the states that has voted to reject Real ID.
One of the (numerous) problems with the Real ID act is that it is viewed as some security solution. Somehow, if we could just KNOW with whom we are dealing, then we can KNOW if we are at risk or not. I’m not sure where this fallacy comes from, but it appears to have grown since the 9/11 attacks. Apparently, many people believe that had we had this kind of ID system in place, the terrorists couldn’t have flown the planes into buildings. Years ago Bruce Schneier wrote how identification does not equal knowledge of intention. In other words, just because you can say WHO someone is doesn’t mean you can say WHAT they intend to do. And that doesn’t even deal with the issue of forged identity cards. All the 9/11 terrorists had some form of ID. Some had valid state-issued ID cards. Some had fake IDs comparable to what under-age people try to use to get into bars or other age-restricted venues.
Profiling has two very dangerous failure modes. The first one is obvious. The intent of profiling is to divide people into two categories: people who may be evildoers and need to be screened more carefully, and people who are less likely to be evildoers and can be screened less carefully. But any such system will create a third, and very dangerous, category: evildoers who don’t fit the profile.
Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, DC sniper John Allen Muhammed, and many of the 9/11 terrorists had no previous links to terrorism. The Unabomber taught mathematics at Berkeley. The Palestinians have demonstrated that they can recruit suicide bombers with no previous record of anti-Israeli activities. Even the 9/11 hijackers went out of their way to establish a normal-looking profile; frequent-flier numbers, a history of first-class travel, etc. Evildoers can also engage in identity theft, and steal the identity-and profile-of an honest person. Profiling can actually result in less security by giving certain people an easy way to skirt security.
There’s another, even more dangerous, failure mode for these systems: honest people who fit the evildoer profile. Because actual evildoers are so rare, almost everyone who fits the profile will turn out to be a false alarm. This not only wastes investigative resources that might be better spent elsewhere, but it causes grave harm to those innocents who fit the profile. Whether it’s something as simple as “driving while black” or “flying while Arab,” or something more complicated like taking scuba lessons or protesting the current administration, profiling harms society because it causes us all to live in fear…not from the evildoers, but from the police.
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Identification and profiling don’t provide very good security, and they do so at an enormous cost. Dropping ID checks completely, and engaging in random screening where appropriate, is a far better security trade-off. People who know they’re being watched, and that their innocent actions can result in police scrutiny, are people who become scared to step out of line.
This small victory over the bad, wasteful, and meaningless requirements of the Real ID act isn’t enough, but it is a start. The current deadlines for Real ID compliance are still in place:
The Real ID Act says that, starting on May 11, 2008, Americans will need a federally-approved ID card to travel on an airplane, open a bank account, collect Social Security payments or take advantage of nearly any government service. States must conduct checks of their citizens’ identification papers, and driver’s licenses may have to be reissued to comply with Homeland Security requirements. (States that agree in advance to abide by the rules have until 2013 to comply.)
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That framework is estimated to cost $23.1 billion, according to the Department of Homeland Security, and could include Americans outfitted with radio frequency ID, or RFID, chips on the cards (the idea is being considered but is not final). Personal data that’s on the back of the card in a two-dimensional bar code will not be encrypted because of “operational complexity,” meaning any business or government agency that scans the information could record it in a database.
Politically speaking, though, Wednesday’s vote could be a turning point in the national debate over Real ID. It indicates that a majority of senators are willing to curb the controversial system, which has already led to a kind of grassroots rebellion among the states.
I’m surprised to look back on this act and realize that it was created and driven primarily by conservatives, and the changes and possible pullbacks are going through thanks to the liberals. I don’t believe 10 years ago I would have predicted that conservatives would work towards increasingly intrusive government, growing federal spending, and less oversight of taxpayer money. And I certainly wouldn’t have thought the liberals would be behind the movement to reduce government interference with states’ rights, lowering government spending, and open accessibility to review federal spending. Right now, though, that is what is happening with our government. I don’t know when we’ll leave bizarro world, but normalcy appears to be something we shouldn’t expect for a while. (via boingboing)
[tags]Slowing Real ID advances, Real ID seeing ammendment to reduce intrusiveness, Liberals working to protect privacy?[/tags]