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DHS Feels the Heat at National ID Town Hall

May 2, 2007

Despite the fact that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provided a mere eight days notice about the one and only national town hall on REAL ID, the public made its opposition loud and clear. Nearly every speaker at the four hour event in Davis, CA criticized the privacy-invasive mandate, which would force states to standardize drivers' licenses and create massive, interlinked databases of your personal information.

We need to keep up the pressure. It's not too late to voice your opposition -- get your comments to DHS before the May 8 deadline.

It's clear that DHS still hasn't gotten the message that REAL ID is fundamentally flawed. Time and again during the meeting, officials defended REAL ID by saying it was necessary for national security. But participants at the meeting weren't buying it. One computer science PhD student pointed out in his comment that REAL ID "solves the wrong problem," because IDs do nothing to stop those who haven't already been identified as threats. REAL ID also won't prevent wrongdoers from creating fake documents. As the Cato Institute's Jim Harper explained in recent testimony before Congress, a basic analysis using even very generous assumptions shows that the benefit of REAL ID doesn't come close to the cost.

And we're not just talking about the more than 23 billion dollars that states and individuals will be forced to pay. REAL ID will also cost you your privacy. Once the IDs and databases are created, their uses will inevitably expand to facilitate a wide range of surveillance activities. Private entities will be able to collect and exploit data on the cards. States will have to collect and maintain vast amounts of personally identifying information, including birth certificates, documents containing Social Security numbers, and potentially utility bills and tax records. And your private information will have to be made available to all other states.

How does DHS say your privacy will be protected? DHS' proposed regulations generally call for the states to develop "comprehensive security plans" but do not set, define or specify any security standards. Nor do they establish or define a governance structure for the databases.

Meanwhile, DHS painted a fairly rosy picture at the meeting of the readiness of technologies to implement REAL ID, including systems to verify data provided by applicants in order to get an ID. But, in reality, REAL ID depends on vaporware systems that haven't been built or tested. Only one of the verification databases is fully operational, and even this system does not yet accommodate REAL ID. The system for sharing data between the states also doesn't exist, and DHS has punted on how it will be constructed. In short, the cart has been put way ahead of the horse -- it's unclear how or if REAL ID's systems are actually going to work, yet the states are being forced to expend significant resources and billions of dollars to put it in place.

Those are just some of the major problems with this national ID system, and the bottom line is that REAL ID needs to be scrapped entirely. Take action and tell DHS to withdraw its proposed regulations now.

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