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Can the States and the People Defeat REAL ID?

By Anthony Gregory, Editor-in-Chief, Campaign for Liberty

Last month, the Utah House voted 68-6 to prohibit state officials from complying with REAL ID. A couple dozen states have passed resolutions protesting the federal Act, but the Utah law would have more teeth. If more states join, we might see a real confrontation with national policy.

Last January, the Department of Homeland Security issued its “final rule” extending the deadline for REAL ID compliance from December 2009 to May 2011. Nationally approved ID will be required for entering federal buildings, flying commercial, or other “official activities” subject to bureaucratic definition. All citizens born after December 1, 1964, must have the ID by December 2014; those born before December 1, 1964, have until December 1, 2017.

The “final rule” was the second extension granted since Bush signed the law in May 2005. Perhaps it need not be so final. Public and state resistance has delayed implementation. Can more resistance prevent it?

Besides the state legislatures, opposition is heard across the political spectrum. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero has denounced REAL ID as “an unfunded mandate that violates the Constitution's 10th Amendment on state powers, destroys states' dual sovereignty and consolidates every American's private information, leaving all of us far more vulnerable to identity thieves.”

Critics have further noted that the Real ID Act has eroded judicial review over construction of barriers on the border, harmed legitimate asylum petitioners, and could cost the states $23 billion over a decade. Moreover, the ID might one day be mandated for voting, gun purchases, collecting government checks, or any conceivable commercial or public transaction. We can expect establishment Republicans and Democrats to stick by it.

When rammed through Congress with unanimous Senate approval, the Act was bundled with emergency Iraq war funding and Tsunami relief. Proponents said it was necessary to stop terrorism and illegal immigration, but in reality the partisans of omnipotent government have always wanted a national ID card.

Congressman Ron Paul warned Americans before the Act passed in May 2005: “Do we really believe a terrorist bent on murder is going to dutifully obtain a federal ID card? Do we believe that people who openly flout our immigration laws will nonetheless respect our ID requirements? Any ID card can be forged; any federal agency or state DMV is susceptible to corruption. Criminals can and will obtain national ID cards, or operate without them. National ID cards will be used to track the law-abiding masses, not criminals.”

But many conservatives and all Senate Republicans ignored Paul, trusted Bush, and went along with this unconstitutional program. Now the Democrats are in charge and some conservatives are waking up – but such corrupting power contrary to the Bill of Rights should never be trusted with any politician, no matter the justification.

Although as Arizona’s governor Janet Napolitano was a known critic of the program, as head of Homeland Security she now favors an equally disturbing alternative: “Enhanced drivers licenses give confidence that the person holding the card is the person who is supposed to be holding the card, and it's less elaborate than Real ID.” Advocates from both parties tout the convenience and security of a license with passport information stored on an externally readable chip, but what limits can we expect on how government will use these cards to exploit personal data?

The move toward a national ID has been a classic case of government overstepping in the midst of crisis and blind public faith. But now there is promising opposition that crosses ideological, demographic, party, and state lines.

While many states have dissented, even some of them are still complying fully, and states including North Carolina, Michigan, and now Nevada have been enthusiastic in their compliance. It is up to the people and the states to beat back this federal usurpation. What happens now is crucial.

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