2008-01-18 / Editorial/Opinion

'Real ID Program' Is The Real Deal

The Real ID Act was passed by Congress in May of 2005 with little debate. This week, the Department of Homeland Security issued its final regulations for implementing the bill. The act sets federal standards for the issuance and appearance of state driver's licenses and identification cards. Those documents will have to meet the federal standards in order to be used for "official purposes," such as boarding a commercial airliner, entering a federal building or any other purpose the DHS considers appropriate. In October New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer, in an attempt to get the federal government to vet his plan to give driver's licenses to undocumented aliens, agreed formally to accept the law. Under that law, tens of thousands of state residents will need a new driver's license, one that meets anti-fraud standards. People who were born after December 1, 1964 will be the first to get the enhanced licenses, under the theory that older people are less likely to be terrorists or identity thieves. That exemption for older people will expire in 2017, however, when every license holder or identification card holder in the state will fall under the federal regulation. DHS has already set this deadline back once under pressure from state governments. It was to begin in May of this year. Several states have warned DHS that they will not comply with the regulations because officials believe that this is the first step towards a national identification card and that, as such, it violates individual privacy rights. The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has called the regulations "an attempt to put a pretty face on an ugly, dangerous law." The NYCLU argues that the regulations may mean that people will have to show their identification when voting, accessing the justice system or boarding an aircraft. It argues that married women who changed their name, but not their birth certificate would be impacted by the regulations. "If implemented, the Real ID Act could establish an enormous electronic infrastructure that government and law enforcement officials could use to track Americans' activities and movements. Once again, we believe that the NYCLU is over-reacting to a sorely needed government program. The idea is simple enough. Each American should be able to prove who he or she is to authorities should the need arise. There is nothing nefarious about that, and the state should quickly move to implement the regulations.

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