States Should Resist Pressure to Implement REAL ID Act

Late last month, 116 lawmakers in Pennsylvania sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to resolve issues created by REAL ID, the U.S. national identification law. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been pressing REAL ID on states with increasing intensity the last few years. The letter cited REAL ID’s abuse of the constitutional division of power between the states and the federal government, costs to states, burdens on citizens, and the privacy consequences of the national ID law.

I shared many of the same messages in testimony I gave on Tuesday to the Minnesota Senate’s Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee. The committee’s chairman, Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), was the author of 2009 legislation to bar Minnesota from complying or planning to comply with REAL ID, but the planning continued.

Minnesota is under pressure from DHS to issue drivers’ licenses and IDs with uniform data elements that allow them to be scanned anywhere in the country, and to share driver data through a nationwide database network. A representative of Delta Airlines testified in favor of Minnesota’s participation in the national ID law. On Wednesday, alas, Mr. Limmer’s committee approved a bill (over his “no” vote) to move Minnesota toward REAL ID compliance.

Identification is a crucial economic function that has been acquired by government over decades of unconsidered policymaking. Last Sunday, a Doonesbury cartoon captured the emerging role of the driver’s license well. People may or may not use a driver’s license for driving, but it is the tool that increasingly controls whether they can fly, vote, or drink.

Given the power that comes from controlling identity systems, it’s no wonder that the federal government is working to grab it from the states. Technical developments are in the works that should allow us to get control of our identification systems back into our own hands. But in the meantime, avoiding a U.S. national ID system would be a good thing to do.