Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is hoping that Congress will do away with the Real ID Act of 2005, a law establishing minimum standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards that are intended to be used for federal purposed (such as passenger screening at U.S. airports). Alexander mimics many of the common critiques and concerts associated with Real ID. He recently declared to The Hill, “[Real ID] wasn’t properly considered in the Senate, it created a national ID card, and it’s a massive unfunded mandate.”
Let’s examine Senator Alexander’s claim one point at a time. First, Congress has twice passed laws requiring Real ID standards—once in 2005 and again in December of 2007 with more than adequate consideration. Secondly, Real ID does not establish a national ID card by any means. This is a frequent misconception about the program. Rather, states maintain their sovereignty, while the federal government gains no more access to citizens’ person information. No national database is created. Further, the law should actually reassure those nervous about these security issues as it adds privacy protections like more security and background checks for government employees who handle sensitive personal data. And finally, Real ID is far from a “massive unfunded mandate” as Alexander mistakenly asserts. The Department of Homeland Security has reduced the initially estimated cost by more than 70 percent and recently designated an addition $48.5 million to assist states with implementation. Real ID is much more likely to save states money thanks to consequential reductions in identity theft, entitlements, fraud and other crimes.
Sincere opponents of Real ID have all the right concerns. Government shouldn’t intrude irresponsibly into our lives or threaten our freedoms and privacy. Washington shouldn’t hand out unfunded mandates. And states shouldn’t run around implementing security measures that don’t make us safe.
While some of these points are valid, aiming these criticisms at Real ID isn’t – as I pointed out in an earlier report. Senator Alexander and the rest of Congress must accept the realities of the program and support the full implementation of Real ID.