Ah, the rider. A time-honored tradition of the United States Congress! Can you imagine what normal life would be like if we had such a privilege? Simply find a situation or statement everyone can agree with and just slip on in an extra proviso. “Sure, you can cross the street– but by crossing that street, you’re agreeing to give me your last cupcake.”
Such was the predicament those no-good liberal senators found themselves in the other week. A massive appropriations bill had come up, funding our troops and authorizing millions in tsunami aid. Voting against such a thing would be political suicide.
Problem was, this win-win bill was practically oozing riders, waiting to spring Sobig-style from that email you knew you shouldn’t have opened. Key among these added provisions was the controversial Real ID Act, enacting sweeping changes to our national border policies and identification systems.
Naturally, the Senate chose the only logical action when presented with such a moral and bureaucratic quagmire– they passed the bill, riders and all, with a unanimous 100-0 vote.
Real ID is a multifaceted monster with two main components. One major thrust of the bill deals with border control, specifically the construction of an ungainly West Bank-style wall in between California and Mexico. The bill also contains provisions to federally supercede state jurisdiction in the matter of issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants; namely, it wants to halt the practice. Besides being of fairly dubious constitutionality, such a revocation could have dangerously deleterious effects on roadway safety. Illegal immigrants are going to drive, license or not– better at least some efforts are made to make sure they know what they’re doing.
The main thrust of the Real ID Act, though, deals with the establishment of a national identification card system. Cards would be issues by the states as a supplemental or, more likely, replacement for driver’s licenses, with a checklist of required information presented both legibly and in a “machine readable” format. This card system would be linked together in a national database. You’d need your card to board airplanes, open bank accounts or deal with basically any governmental bureaucracy.
State governments take real issue with Real ID for being yet another unfunded mandate from the administration, similar to the situation with the No Child Left Behind program. The implementation and management of this complex bureaucracy would cost states tens of millions of dollars.
Worse still, this security measure designed to insure our border and intranational safety could actually end up crippling it. Computer security experts have taken Real ID to task, lambasting the idea of a centralized information database. Any security leak and terrorists or, more probably, identity thieves would have access to the personal information of hundreds of millions of Americans. This is no baseless fear; high profile identity theft has been in the news a lot lately. Just this month, Time Warner announced an outside storage company had lost personal data for around 600,000 employees.
Portions of the Real ID Act also carry severe Orwellian potential. The Department of the Homeland Security has been pushing for the standardization of Radio Frequency Identifiers in identification cards– small, encoded wireless transmitters that can be read without physical contact. The tin-foil types point out that having RFIDs on national ID cards could very easily be used to construct a system tracking every movement of every single American carrying such a card in their wallet. Washington state recently became part of a program using RFID technology to identify Canadian visitors coming over the Blaine border.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of Real ID, however, is its invocation of a rarely used provision in the U.S. Constitution– Article 3, Section 2– that could be interpreted to grant Congress the power to exempt from judicial review some things as they see fit. As unbelievable as it sounds, a part of the Real ID Act amends 1996’s Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act to basically grant the Secretary of Homeland Security supreme executive authority.
The 1996 IIRIRA already included provisions exempting involved bureaucrats from the 1973 Endangered Species Act and the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act in the construction of the new Mexican blockade. The new Real ID Act amends this waiver to extend to anything the Secretary of Homeland Security sees fit to waive. Better still, a later subsection forbids any court– from local to Supreme– from hearing any case arising from complaints in the construction of the “barriers and roads” being constructed along the Mexican border.
Don’t believe me? It’s all right there, in House Resolution 418 § 102(c) for you Thomas-heads.
After cruising past the Senate, President Bush is expected to sign the bill any day now, backpedaling on two centuries of checks and balances.
Various forces are amassing to delay the implementation of the Real ID provisions, from immigrant rights advocates to a national state governors coalition. For more information on Real ID and what you can do, check out the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s site at http://www.epic.org/privacy/id_cards/.