Join The REAL ID Revolt

By Martin Bosworth

As a reminder, the deadline to submit comments to the Department of Homeland Security on the Real ID program is 5pm Eastern time, May 8th.

The ACLU’s Real Nightmare Action Center has detailed instructions on how you can submit comments. You can also do so courtesy of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Here’s the form to submit comments, and helpful instructions on how to do so. And here’s a reminder of why this is important.

I’ve included the full text of my submitted comments below the jump, in case you’re interested:

I am a writer who specializes in issues of technology and privacy, and a recognized expert on identity theft, fraud, and data security. As such, I am joining the chorus of authorities who have spoken up to say that REAL ID is a security nightmare of the first order.

REAL ID is bad politics, bad policy, and bad practice. It will have the following effects:

*It will put low-paid entry level workers at state motor vehicle agencies on the front lines of the war on terrorism, by making them responsible for gathering sensitive personal information to authenticate these new REAL ID-sanctioned drivers licenses. That sort of work is challenging for trained and experienced security professionals, so how sensible is it to ask of people who have no such training or experience?

*It will increase the likelihood of identity theft and massive data breaches a thousandfold. Not only will you have a huge interlinked database that will no doubt require private contractors to build and maintain, and which will probably have minimum levels of security at best, but the aforementioned DMV workers will have easy access to personal information which they can sell on the side to make money, often going right into the hands of potential terrorists or criminals. All of these links in the chain guarantee that unauthorized access of the data will occur. It’s not a question of “if,” but “when.”

*Bruce Schneier has noted that this law will have a similar effect to the “Registered Traveler” program–that of creating two classes of citizens, one considered more “legitimate” by having a REAL ID-approved identification. How easily will those who don’t have a REAL ID-approved license be singled out, discriminated against, or held under suspicion? All too easily, I suspect.

*The costs for this program–the upgrading of DMVs across the country, the building of infrastructure to transmit the data, training workers to understand their new duties–is absurd, and the states are being asked to shoulder nearly the whole of the burden. How long will it be before states are forced to raise taxes or cut other services to bring in revenue in order to meet these obligations?

*Most of all, this simply will not be effective in preventing terrorism. Anyone who gets fake versions of the “breeder documents” needed for this ID will get past the screening, and the huge push for compliance in the first few years will ensure mistakes are made. Not to mention that a single ID standard is much easier to forge and duplicate than one that varies across fifty-plus states and territories. Decentralization is better for security in every respect, and this is no exception.

When I attended the FTC’s conference on identity theft and authentication, every time REAL ID came up, the idea was universally derided as a monstrous mistake by privacy and security experts from across the world. It isn’t too late to prevent this mistake, so I urge you to give the words of commenters consideration.

Do not implement REAL ID.

17 replies »

  1. It’s always fascinating to see US attitudes to carrying ID; never are Atlantic divisions and differences more obvious. In South Africa, at birth, a child is fingerprinted and has to have an ID. At the age of sixteen you are fingerprinted again and receive an adult ID. You cannot open a bank-account or interact with any government department (even reporting a crime at the police station) without your ID present. You also cannot apply for a job without one. There is a separate – and highly complex – driver’s licence ID which also necessitates regular fingerprinting and other analysis.

    IDs are extremely easy to forge. In fact, the biggest source of forgeries is the department of Home Affairs itself – the department responsible for issuing them. The department is so incapable, and the process so painful, that many people are forced to get theirs illegally.

    One chap, stretched to desperation after waiting for three years to get his ID and unable to apply for a job in the interim, held an entire local department of Home Affairs hostage at gunpoint in the hopes of getting his ID. He was arrested and sent to jail but most South Africans sympathise with his experiences.

    One of the more interesting tricks is that foreigners (African migrants who want a permit to work here) bribe Home Affairs officials to “marry” them to locals. Women going to register their marriages discover that they are already married. And then find it impossible to reverse the situation.

    All in all an appalling mess. And, yes, this does add fuel to your fire.

    South Africans have never questioned the need for ID. I think it’s good that you fight it tooth and claw.

  2. Gavin,

    Absolutely correct and thank you for providing this perspective.

    Many of the wonks I attended the FTC conference with were enamored of ideas for a national ID that would involve DNA sequencing being used as a genetic identifier and other such craziness. My group (which I called the “Live Free Or Die” coalition) argued that for identifiers to work on any level, they have to be decentralized and local. The nightmare you describe is exactly why I feel that way, and exactly why I think REAL ID is terrible.

  3. One of the other things one finds in South Africa is the strength and resilience of the informal sector; these are people who point-blank refuse to become “legal”. The entire taxi-industry (in South Africa that’s equivalent to any developing country’s transport system) spends billions of Rands a year, earn even more, and pays no tax and registers no drivers.

    Clearly it’s unsafe (you don’t want to know the fatality rate) but, just as clearly, the drivers and owners don’t want the government to track them. Both sides are armed.

  4. This is kind of a watershed moment. Up until the precise nanosecond that Bush took office “conservative” Americans were mortified of the threat gummit posed to their privacy and civil liberties (do your own search on Ruby Ridge and Waco). All of a sudden they were in favor of Constitution sodomy in the form of things like the Patriot Act. If they’re willing to tolerate this one – which should be opposed as a precursor to the Mark of the Beast by the Jesus wing of the GOP – we’ll know that we have well and truly turned a corner, never to return….

  5. SA taxi unions are armed and dangerous, as I understand it. Isn’t this how Dudu Zulu died? Or am I thinking of Joseph Shabalala?

  6. Sam,

    I’ve always been blunt in pointing out the hypocrisies of the limited-government conservatives as to how they threatened holy war over the Waco dust-up, but think nothing of letting RFID, REAL ID, and the PATRIOT ACT turn our civil liberties inside-out and burn their organs in the sunlight.

    These people are about fear and entitlement, plain and simple. As long as they get to keep their guns and there are no men kissing near them, nothing else matters.

  7. Martin, your letter to Homeland Security is excellent! Thanks for sounding the alarm. As you and Sam point out, there is extraordinary hypocrisy on the right about privacy issues. I think the only way the Repubs avoid cognitive dissonance is that they expect to have complete executive authority in their own hands, so that they and their friends need not worry about protecting their own privacy from themselves.

  8. I live in texas, what is interesting is, during (slightly before) the 2006 elections I went to the texas GOP website and downloaded the party platform pdf. I had heard there were some nutty things in there, like “we recognize that the U.S. is a christian nation…”. I found something that I didn’t expect, which was a statement AGAINST a national ID card… so I emailed my Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, asking why she voted for the Real ID Act in violation of the Texas Rupublican Party Platform… I never got a response in either email or written form.

  9. Godwin’s law states “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”

    I would like to propose The Williams Postulate:
    “as an online discussion regarding the Republican Party grows longer, the probability of a comparison to George Orwell’s ‘1984’ approaches one.”

    So for the record, just let me say:

    Thank you,
    Daniel Williams

  10. To everyone who looked at nazi Germany and declared it couldn’t happen here… it’s happening here.

  11. Hey, Brian, Ogham is cool but does not have the charisma of Futhark. Most people only see line scratches. Won’t be convincing on an ID card anyway. Forget ID cards, they’ll just implant ID Chips in our ass so they can scan us like groceries.

  12. Even better than ogham or runic – Klingon! And for good measure, I’ll carry a copy of Hamlet, written in the original Klingon, with me wherever I go….

  13. Bosskitty:

    “ID chips in our ass,” eh? Did you hear about former Verichip chairman (and HHS head) Tommy Thompson’s push to get every military servicemember chipped with an RFID implant containing their medical information?

    Convenient that he stepped down from VeriChip just in time to run for President. Not that he’s got a chance in hell of winning, but still…