Well, not quite. But on January 25, our state legislators did vote overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution that essentially stated Maine’s opposition to the Real ID system to standardize national identity cards. Since then, many states have followed suit. Our formal rebuff, “An Act to Prohibit Maine From Participating in a National Identification Card System,” was enacted earlier this month when Governor John Baldacci signed it into law.
Supporters of the national program, which would require states to issue new, standardized ID cards to all adults, citizens and non-citizens alike, have been fighting to maintain the program’s credibility since its inception. Originally, the idea was conceived as a national-security solution that would make verification of identity safer at airports and federal buildings, among other places. According to the federal Department of Homeland Security: the following information would be required on the face of all Real IDs: “space available for 39 characters for full legal name; address of principal residence; digital photograph; gender; date of birth; signature, document number; and machine readable technology.” Machine-readable technology could be barcodes or biometrics (iris scans or fingerprints). Plus, states would be required to link their databases to facilitate information sharing nationwide.
Some people are already used to giving up scads of personal information (even retina scans) at work. But if you think this sounds a bit Orwellian, you’re not alone. The American Civil Liberties Union, along with 32 states that have passed or are considering anti-Real ID legislation, all cite privacy invasion and fraud potential as motivating concerns.
DHS counters that the federal government will not have a central database of personal information, nor will officials from other states be able to “fish” for information in other states. Of course, the federal government also claimed that anti-terrorism laws wouldn’t affect average citizens; then we found out that phone companies were handing over telephone records. (It’s also worth noting that federal, state, and local agencies are still struggling to consolidate terrorist watch lists, which lends credibility to Real ID proponents’ claims that national ID databases aren’t in the government’s interest.)
Plus, the program would be difficult and costly to implement, state legislators contended. In Maine alone, the re-issuance of thousands of drivers’ licenses, plus the creation of a new networked data-storage system, would have a combined price tag of approximately $185 million, according to the legislation submitted by state senate majority leader Libby Mitchell.
On this issue also, the state has a representative in Washington. Following the legislature’s decision in January, Maine Representative Tom Allen introduced a federal version: the Repeal REAL ID and Identification Security Enhancement Act of 2007. Citing the cost and complications of implementation, as well as “potential for breaches of privacy and fraud,” Allen’s bill calls on Congress to replace the “deeply flawed law...with realistic legislation that does not subvert our constitutional system, does not put personal information at risk, and does not impose the burden of an unfunded mandate on state taxpayers.”
The big question, of course, is whether or not these state-by-state refusals will actually stand up when it comes to implementation. If Real ID implementation proceeds on schedule, those without federally approved ids might not be able to get into federal buildings or fly on commercial airlines.