Leadership Journal Archive
October 12, 2007 - January 19, 2008

March 20, 2008

REAL ID – Plain and Simple

Map of the U.S.
The driver’s license is the most commonly used identity document in the United States. Originally designed to verify that you’re allowed to drive, it is now the primary identification for almost everyone over the age of 16 in the United States. It’s used to enter federal buildings, board airplanes, prove your age, and it’s even used in some states as a debit card.

Like it or not, Americans rely on driver’s licenses for every day life. That’s why the security of state licensing systems is so important. And, licensing systems are only as secure as the weakest link.

Unfortunately, we learned this the hard way. Twice.

First, in 1995, when Timothy McVeigh was able to create a fake South Dakota license with ease; all it took was a manual typewriter and a kitchen iron. He used the license to rent a Ryder truck in Oklahoma and destroy the Murrah Federal Building. Then, on September 11, 2001, eighteen of the nineteen hijackers carried government-issued IDs – mostly state driver’s licenses, many obtained fraudulently.

The 9/11 Commission recognized that it’s too easy to get false identification in the U.S. That’s why the Commission determined that “(s)ecure identification should begin in the United States. The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” Congress responded with the REAL ID Act of 2005, which requires the federal government to set standards for the identifications it accepts.

At its core, the regulation requires that, in order for a state’s ID to be used to gain access to federal facilities, airplanes and the like, the state must implement strong security standards in three areas.
  1. First, the state must apply better standards when verifying the identification of those applying for driver’s licenses.

  2. Second, states must increase the physical security features on the driver’s license card by making it harder to alter or forge (e.g., optical variable devices, ultraviolet features, micro-printing, fine line duplex patterns, and other features that cannot be reproduced using commercially available products).

  3. Finally, it calls for the security of the production facilities and materials used in the production of licenses, as well as the security of the DMV databases.
In recent weeks, we've heard myth upon myth and anecdote after anecdote to counter the mounting momentum in favor of REAL ID. Fifty-one jurisdictions, to include forty-six states accounting for 97 percent of the licenses issued in the United States, are already on the road to driver's license security. That’s because Americans want identity protection, and it’s because they recognize that knowing who a person is matters. We still live in a world where airplanes and passengers are a target of choice.

That’s where REAL ID comes in. Plain and simple.

As I write, four states have yet to commit to secure licenses for their citizens. The good news for these state leaders is that there’s still time to get on board. I’ll have more to say about this in the coming days. In the meantime, thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.

Stewart A. Baker
Assistant Secretary for Policy

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  • There are ways to protect Americans without resorting to measures like the REAL ID. Even Senator Alexander admits, "We are, after all, for the first time in our history actually creating a national identification card with all the ramifications of that. That is what the REAL ID law did."

    A national id card is not simply a secure card. It would be an entire infrastructure of card, scanners, records, and access by government officials. In short, it is a platform for increasing control and regulation over the individual. Such schemes would be used by liberals for an avalanche of regulation.

    Why "conservatives"--who passed this bill-- cannot see the inherent increase in government presence and power is beyond me. Conservatives tout "limited government" and then embrace national id card schemes like the REAL ID Act.

    The concept of the individual is fading fast. REAL ID creates an infrastructure where arbitrary rules can be added and enforced with greater ease than before--reducing the "breathing space" of the individual radically. (I still like the phrase, "None of your business.")

    I also have 4th Amendment issues regarding REAL ID. If Americans need to be searched or items seized, let the government get a search warrant. The federal government should not get an end-run around the 4th Amendment by gathering information and tracking individuals before they do anything wrong--let alone do the basic functions of living in society.

    The justification for REAL ID has already morphed into several purposes: national security, illegal immigration, identity fraud, and cold-medicine control--even baby sitter verification. However, none of these issues creates a valid need for a national id card.

    When people have to gain on-going permission to live (i.e. "You're ID, please."), those people are not free; especially when that ID is controlled by an impersonal, too-powerful bureaucracy.

    John R.

    By Blogger John R., At March 20, 2008 2:38 PM  

  • I personally feel the REAL ID is long over due.

    I can’t wait for it to be in place in all states. I am not paranoid about the government wanting a more secure Driver’s license, in fact, I want that too!

    I know enough about the REAL ID card to know that it is NOT a national ID card, as some uniformed people believe…………..it is not a national ID card that some “other” countries have. It is NOT required for citizens to have or carry REAL ID, unless they are drivers and want to have a driver’s license.

    It does not collect any more information than is already collected for a driver’s license.

    I think REAL ID is a great tool and will help keep illegal aliens, etc. from obtaining other forms of false ID or stealing ID from actual citizens.

    HURRY! MOST OF US WANT IT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. It has already taken way too long to put into place…it was suppose to be done by now! You should not have given any more "time” to the states to comply. That only hurts the whole country to make everyone wait.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At March 21, 2008 2:55 PM  

  • We get asked for ID everywhere we go; on a daily basis, just to get through life.

    REAL ID is a great idea. I want a document that says "yes, this is really me" and not an imposter posing as me.

    You get asked for ID when writing a check at the store. You need to have ID to drive with. You need to show ID when applying for a legal job. You need to show ID when renting an apartment or buying a house. You need to show ID when financing a car or applying for a credit card. You need to show ID when applying for a social security card. You need to show ID when boarding an airplane, etc..etc....etc.....

    REAL ID will make it all much simpler and much more secure. I like that!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At March 21, 2008 3:02 PM  

  • If you have ever had your identity stolen, then you would know Real ID is something we need!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At March 21, 2008 3:04 PM  

  • Real ID multiplies the opportunities for identity theft exponentially. The promises of secret and secure social security numbers were all betrayed, enabling id criminals an enormous opening in the first place. It will only be worse with Real ID. Our privacy has been taken, for a profit, by corporations, bankers, credit reporting agencies, all without even asking the citizen, and all of them make important decisions FOR us whether their information is right or wrong. REAL ID will be a bonanza for the criminally minded and corporate interests and all at the expense of our freedom. This should, at bare minimum, be brought to a referendum of the PEOPLE. We haven't been represented by our elected officials in a very long time.

    By Blogger margaret, At March 24, 2008 7:33 PM  

  • REAL ID is indeed a national id card:

    1. It has requirements demanded by the NATIONAL government.

    2. The purpose is for IDENTIFICATION.

    3. It is on a CARD.

    1+2+3= National ID Card.

    This is not rocket science.

    One might say, “The government knows everything about you anyway. What’s it matter?”

    It matters for two reasons:

    1) Such talk says, “Let’s capitulate.” It is a fallacy that says, “It’s already bad, so let’s make it worse.” Hope for reform withers under that kind of resignation. If we're on the wrong road, the soonest way to progress is to turn around.

    2) REAL ID layers on more real-time capability of surveillance. If it weren’t a significant change that increased government’s power, the government wouldn’t be pushing for it.

    A national id card is not simply a secure card. It would be an entire infrastructure of card, scanners, digital records, and access by government officials. In short, it is a platform for increasing control and regulation over the individual. Such schemes would be used for an avalanche of regulation.

    I, for one, am for "limited government."

    We don't have to implement bad ideas--let alone ideas that sell out our freedoms.

    Just what are we fighting for anyway?

    By Blogger John R., At March 24, 2008 8:47 PM  

  • Which system is easier to hack? One which has 50 different designs, databases and requirements or a system which has one design, one database, and one set of requirements?

    Any programmer knows that distributed systems are safer systems. By putting all American citizen's information into one design, database and set of requirements Real ID makes every one of us a target for terrorists, identity thieves and misguided government employees.

    My government is good at some things (roads, schools, military training): however I have no faith in their ability to construct an impenetrable database. And you know what? If every American Citizen's information is in a database, it had better be impenetrable.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At March 25, 2008 3:48 PM  

  • Clearly, the ease in which anyone can create a false ID in this country has come back to haunt us, and not just on 9/11. Can anyone count the number of teen drunk drivers who obtained alcohol using a fake driver's license? It's been done for decades.

    The question I have is enforcing the privacy policies and security of the systems. Human error and harmful intent are the two greatest threats to privacy and security, and from the recent policy breaches by a) the DoD employee accused of selling classified materials to the Chinese, b) the NIH employee who had a laptop containing the names and personal information of medical study patients, and c) the gov't contractor who perused the passport information of the 3 Presidential candidates, it is clear that neither the state or federal gov't is capable or willing to be more proactive in its approach to enforcing its own privacy and security policies.

    Just ask the question "Can we definitely enforce this policy BEFORE a breach occurs?"

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At March 26, 2008 11:17 PM  

  • John R., you are so correct about how much more easily they will be able to add on new rules and regulations.

    I just ordered a few copies of my birth certificate and was told that my number of copies requested was "excessive" and that if I did not tell them why I needed this amount, they would report me to DHS and be placed on a national watch list!

    We think they want only serious threats to national security reported, but it's obvious they can ask for any activity by Americans to be reported. In the hands of the wrong people, we could be heading for something that looks very close to a police state.

    How can a clerk in some govt office decide someone is a national threat by requesting a few extra copies of one's birth certificate and place them on a national watch list? Would a potential employer have access to this list and consider me to not be a safe person to hire? And not knowing I just wanted a few extra copies of my birth certificate?

    The irony, is that Chertoff himself recommends that we all get extra copies of our birth certificate.


    Question: One of the problems with this waiver that you’ve had over the summer is that people needed their passports to go into Mexico and—I mean their birth certificates, but they were stuck in the pipeline with the State Department. Isn’t that same thing going to happen in the first few months of next year when they’re trying to apply for a passport, they send in their birth certificate but they’re going to need their birth certificate to go across the border?

    Secretary Chertoff: You know, actually, I have a recommendation. Why don’t people get two certified copies of their birth certificate? I mean I personally wouldn’t put a valuable—if I have only one birth certificate I’m going to be reluctant to put it in the mail unless I have a backup copy. I’d get a couple of copies.

    Our founding fathers warned us to be extremely careful about how much control or interaction our Govt is allowed to have. Let's not be naive about the "good intentions" of those who want to go down this road. They will not always be the one's overseeing and controlling these technologies. Just ask Hitler's Germany.

    Mr. K.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 12, 2008 10:01 AM  

  • REAL ID wouldn't have stopped 911 and to suggest it would is disingenuous and frankly, pretty much eliminates the integrity of the author, calling everything else he wrote into question. Schemes like this won't find the aberrations, they will simply keep good track of all the law abiding citizens; and let's face it - THAT'S what they want.

    Cameras which can recognize a face from 50 yards.. Biometric databases.. Communication Social Network Data.. Cell Phone GPS or Cell Triangulation. The worst thing about these kinds of ideas is that they do nothing to actually protect as from the terrorists, but they get all of our focus while the terrorists slip under, over, through and around while we're all looking the other way. It's an idiotic approach created by an idiotic person.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 16, 2008 5:22 PM  

  • Well i don't like it the Real Id is a BAD idea from an idiotic Person Terriost can be random people like 9/11 people think its the Government people thing its inside job but no one knows, it could be terriost it could be the government. But after the real id takes place the Government is gonna start to implant a chip into your arm. Now watch the Gangs are gonna like this at all and mafias. The mafia leader and gang leaders are gonna protest or even shoot the goverment meaning Revolutionary war. REAL ID is bad it leads to bad things. ONE World government is bad to.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 26, 2008 6:06 PM  

  • Our Constitution unambiguously created a federal government that was subservient to state and local interests. What happened? The federal government has usurped unwarranted and undeserving authority. We've eroded statehood. What have we gained?

    States can pass their own legislation that embeds state-issued identity cards with improved security devices.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At November 21, 2008 4:46 PM  

  • I would agree that statehood is undermined, but that in and of itself, is not the problem. In my opinion, statehood has outlived it's effectiveness, but that's another subject. REAL ID is a precursor to an embedded RFID chip into the human body, that is where the real threat to privacy lies. Are we then an expendable commodity? What percieved threat is great enough to warrant such a step in this direction? What freedoms are we then protecting? As far as I know, Americans fought for Liberty, not freedom. The distinction is subtle, yet remains. Like the difference between patriotism and nationalism, the difference is in the perspective. Liberty and patriotism; for the individual. Freedom and nationalism; for the masses. But what is freedom without liberty? Without liberty, what are the gaurantees really worth?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At November 29, 2008 3:58 PM  

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