With states and citizens objecting, the Congress and the Bush Administration have moved ahead to require a national identification card — abandoning decades of opposition to such a system on civil liberties grounds. I testified against this proposal when it was first made in the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 attacks. What is truly remarkable is that the REAL ID has become little more than an excuse to do something that the Bush Administration has been trying to do for years: create interlocking databases on citizens.
When I testified against this bill in Congress at its first proposal in 2001, it was clearly a response to 9-11 when members could think of nothing else to show how serious they were about security. Indeed, I recall that one of their main witnesses sitting to my left pulled out his wallet to show how many different identification cards he already had — stating that he did not see why he should not have another. I have been a long critic of the cards on civil liberties –as well as practical–grounds. For a prior column, click here
What is particularly galling is that the card has been watered down to reduce costs for the states. So that main selling point — a micro chip — has been removed. This is one of the reason that the card programs has been reduced in cost by roughly 75 percent from $14.6 billion to $3.9 billion. Now anyone born after 1964 (I missed the cut-off thankfully) will have to get a new REAL ID to get into federal buildings or to fly. There is no evidence at all that such an id would have stopped the 9-11 terrorists. There wallets were filled with valid ids. The point of 9-11 is that these terrorists included “sleepers,” terrorists who stayed within the country and laid low until the time for the attack. It would be an easy thing for a sleeper agent to get one of these cards.The real purpose of the card program was to get Congress to allow the Administration to allow the use of a massive data bank system checking and monitoring citizens. Private information on citizens will now be passed from agency to agency. The Administration has long sought what is called “total transparency.” For a prior column, click here
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who unveiled final details of the REAL ID Act’s rules on Friday, said that if states want their licenses to remain valid for air travel after May 2008, those states must seek a waiver indicating they want more time to comply with the legislation.Chertoff said that in instances where a particular state doesn’t seek a waiver, its residents will have to use a passport or a newly created federal passport card if they want to avoid a vigorous secondary screening at airport security.” The last thing I want to do is punish citizens of a state who would love to have a REAL ID license but can’t get one,” Chertoff said. “But in the end, the rule is the rule as passed by Congress.”
I don’t know anyone who seriously wants a Chertoff card, but there must be a few such citizens. However, his point about Congress is valid. Once again, how could Democrats allow this to go through without even an attempt at a filibuster? The answer is the same we have heard on torture, unlawful surveillance and the rest. Members simply did not want to be politically vulnerable in being seen as soft on terrorism. However, from that first hearing, it was clear that this was conceived as a political rather than a security measure. In the hearing itself, members and witnesses said “we must do something.” That something, it turned out, was to abandon our long opposition to national identification cards so that our politicians could claim to be tough on terror.Given the opposition from both blue and red states, the question is whether our leaders will now feel enough personal political cover to do the right thing and suspend this program.
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