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How 'Real ID' Will Affect You?

Declan McCullagh, CNet Newscom, May 6, 2005

Q: What's all the fuss with the Real ID Act about?

A: President Bush is expected to sign an $82 billion military spending 
bill soon that will, in part, create electronically readable, federally 
approved ID cards for Americans. The House of Representatives 
overwhelmingly approved the package--which includes the Real ID Act--on 

Q: What does that mean for me?

A: Starting three years from now, if you live or work in the United 
States, you'll need a federally approved ID card to travel on an 
airplane, open a bank account, collect Social Security payments, or take 
advantage of nearly any government service. Practically speaking, your 
driver's license likely will have to be reissued to meet federal standards.

Q: How will I get one of these new ID cards?

A: You'll still get one through your state motor vehicle agency, and it 
will likely take the place of your drivers' license. But the 
identification process will be more rigorous.

A: For instance, you'll need to bring a "photo identity document," 
document your birth date and address, and show that your Social Security 
number is what you had claimed it to be. U.S. citizens will have to 
prove that status, and foreigners will have to show a valid visa.

State DMVs will have to verify that these identity documents are 
legitimate, digitize them and store them permanently. In addition, 
Social Security numbers must be verified with the Social Security 

Q: What's going to be stored on this ID card?

A: At a minimum: name, birth date, sex, ID number, a digital photograph, 
address, and a "common machine-readable technology" that Homeland 
Security will decide on. The card must also sport "physical security 
features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting, or duplication 
of the document for fraudulent purposes."

Homeland Security is permitted to add additional requirements--such as a 
fingerprint or retinal scan--on top of those. We won't know for a while 
what these additional requirements will be.

Q: Why did these ID requirements get attached to an "emergency" military 
spending bill?

A: Because it's difficult for politicians to vote against money that 
will go to the troops in Iraq and tsunami relief. The funds cover 
ammunition, weapons, tracked combat vehicles, aircraft, troop housing, 
death benefits, and so on.

The House already approved a standalone version of the Real ID Act in 
February, but by a relatively close margin of 261-161. It was expected 
to run into some trouble in the Senate. Now that it's part of an Iraq 
spending bill, senators won't want to vote against it.

Q: What's the justification for this legislation anyway?

A: Its supporters say that the Real ID Act is necessary to hinder 
terrorists, and to follow the ID card recommendations that the 9/11 
Commission made last year.

It will "hamper the ability of terrorist and criminal aliens to move 
freely throughout our society by requiring that all states require proof 
of lawful presence in the U.S. for their drivers' licenses to be 
accepted as identification for federal purposes such as boarding a 
commercial airplane, entering a federal building, or a nuclear power 
plant," Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, said during 
the debate Thursday.

Q: You said the ID card will be electronically readable. What does that 

A: The Real ID Act says federally accepted ID cards must be "machine 
readable," and lets  Homeland Security determine the details. That could 
end up being a magnetic strip, enhanced bar code, or radio frequency 
identification (RFID) chips.

In the past, Homeland Security has indicated it likes the concept of 
RFID chips. The State Department is already going to be embedding RFID 
devices in passports, and Homeland Security wants to issue 
RFID-outfitted IDs to foreign visitors who enter the country at the 
Mexican and Canadian borders. The agency plans to start a yearlong test 
of the technology in July at checkpoints in Arizona, New York and 
Washington state.

Q: Will state DMVs share this information?

A: Yes. In exchange for federal cash, states must agree to link up their 
databases. Specifically, the Real ID Act says it hopes to "provide 
electronic access by a state to information contained in the motor 
vehicle databases of all other states."

Q: Is this legislation a done deal?

A: Pretty much. The House of Representatives approved the package on 
Thursday by a vote of 368-58. Only three of the "nay" votes were 
Republicans; the rest were Democrats. The Senate is scheduled to vote on 
it next week and is expected to approve it as well.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan has told reporters "the president 
supports" the standalone Real ID Act, and the Bush administration has 
come out with an official endorsement. As far back as July 2002, the 
Bush administration has been talking about assisting "the states in 
crafting solutions to curtail the future abuse of drivers' licenses by 
terrorist organizations."

Q: Who were the three Republicans who voted against it?

A: Reps. Howard Coble of North Carolina, John Duncan of Tennessee, and 
Ron Paul of Texas.

Paul has warned that the Real ID Act "establishes a national ID card" 
and "gives authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security to 
unilaterally add requirements as he sees fit."

Q: Is this a national ID card?

A:  It depends on whom you ask. Barry Steinhardt, director of the 
American Civil Liberties Union's technology and liberty program, says: 
"It's going to result in everyone, from the 7-Eleven store to the bank 
and airlines, demanding to see the ID card. They're going to scan it in. 
They're going to have all the data on it from the front of the 
card...It's going to be not just a national ID card but a national 

At the moment, state driver's licenses aren't easy for bars, banks, 
airlines and so on to swipe through card readers because they're not 
uniform; some may have barcodes but no magnetic stripes, for instance, 
and some may lack both. Steinhardt predicts the federalized IDs will be 
a gold mine for government agencies and marketers. Also, he notes that 
the Supreme Court ruled last year that police can demand to see ID from 
law-abiding U.S. citizens.

Q: Will it be challenged in court?

A: Maybe. "We're exploring whether there are any litigation 
possibilities here," says the ACLU's Steinhardt.

One possible legal argument would challenge any requirement for a 
photograph on the ID card as a violation of religious freedom. A second 
would argue that the legislation imposes costs on states without 
properly reimbursing them.

Q: When does it take effect?

A: The Real ID Act takes effect "three years after the date of the 
enactment" of the legislation. So if the Senate and Bush give it the 
thumbs-up this month, its effective date would be sometime in May 2008.
Election 2004
The Triumph of the Swill
"The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost
duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and cooperation.
It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our
nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation
of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national
Adolph Hitler, My New World Order,
Proclamation to the German Nation
at Berlin, February 1, 1933

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