Over strenuous objections from the ACLU, Congress in May took the momentous step of authorizing a de facto national identity card. Passage of the REAL ID Act will lead to creation of a standardized set of expanded information collected for driver’s licenses issued by states and a national database of this information. After Congress initially rejected the proposal, its sponsor inserted the bill into an appropriations measure for troops, which most Congress members felt they had to vote for.
Under the new law, driver’s licenses will include a digital photo and possibly other biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints. States will be required to link their databases, creating a single database for police and the opportunity for “one-stop-shopping” by thieves seeking to steal identities. Data on the licenses must be made available through a “common machine-readable-technology,” which will make it easy for private industry to snap up personal data on customers and sell it to businesses.
REAL ID also targets immigrants by requiring individuals to prove their lawful presence in the U.S. and barring issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented persons – who thus will not have the ID needed for airplane travel, banks accounts, and more. The result will be an increase in unlicensed drivers, undermining public safety and increasing insurance rates for everyone. Further, implementing the law will be costly to state governments and will create a logistical mess, as people will be required to provide multiple forms of identification to prove they are lawful residents.
The ACLU is focusing on actions states can take in response to it. Working with privacy advocates and immigrant rights allies, we hope to convince many states, including Washington, to resist the requirements of REAL ID and to pressure Congress to repeal the Act before it fully takes effect in 2008. The ACLU also is exploring legal challenges.