'Big Brother' is almost here

Posted: Friday, July 13, 2007

In his eerily farsighted book "1984," George Orwell describes a society in which privacy is unknown, slavish obedience a given, and nonconformity the ultimate enemy of the state.

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In a nation crawling with domestic spies, the image of Big Brother is seemingly omnipresent. His gaze of loving authority encourages a compliant populace to maintain its herd mentality. Interestingly, while his face is everywhere, in reality, Big Brother is faceless. No one ever actually sees him. They merely assume he is in charge, that he cares for them like a familial overseer, and that his version of society is the only correct one.

It's taken us a while, but we're beginning to catch up with Orwell's vision. The Bush administration's virtually unrestricted government surveillance of Americans has expanded dramatically in the past few years. And while we still lack Winston Smith's ultra-cool spying television set in our living rooms, by this time next year we're slated to have something almost as nifty. It's called REAL ID, and when it kicks in, well, (Big) brother, we'll have all the personal security we could want. Really.

On May 11, 2005, President George W. Bush signed the REAL ID Act of 2005, as an attachment to a military spending bill. In essence, the law, which goes into effect in May of 2008 (or a year later with certain caveats), will create a federalized driver's license, with standards to be set by the Department of Homeland Security.

Well, of course it's for our own good. We'd never be able to survive as a nation without it. We haven't so far. And only kooks, right-wing conspiracy theorists and the blatantly unpatriotic would balk at:

1. Providing an incredible amount of often difficult-to-obtain documentation proving they are who they say they are.

2. Either directly paying exorbitant fees for the new identification card or paying for it through ballooning taxation.

3. Submitting to the future possibility of biometric identifiers and radio-frequency identification within the card itself.

4. Being deposited in a massive database.

5. Being forbidden to travel freely in their own country by their method of choice.

6. Surrendering a whole lot more of their privacy and individuality.

But there is rebellion in the wind.

Montana, which as a state has always had the stomach for a good scrap, flatly refuses to implement the federal plan, stating that it is "inimical to the security and well-being of the people of Montana." New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch signed into law that state's official rejection of REAL ID, indicating that the unfunded federal mandate was "repugnant" to both the state and U.S. constitutions. Other states have expressed similar legislative opposition to what is rightly perceived as an egregious intrusion into the privacy of individuals, and a dismembering of states' rights. The National Governor's Association has also expressed opposition to the federal law.

While compliance with REAL ID is "voluntary," it is also "mandatory," since noncompliance will result in your being barred from flying on a commercial airplane, entering federal buildings, opening a bank account, and engaging in a variety of other daily activities currently taken for granted. What REAL ID amounts to is the creation of a de facto national identification card and internal passport. For Alaskans, whose dependence on commercial air transport is a fact of life, refusal to "voluntarily" participate in this program means a virtual cessation of travel to the Outside.

Supporters of REAL ID claim it will help weed out illegal aliens, but our government's arrogant refusal to seal our southern borders exposes that defense as nothing more than smoke and mirrors. This program is geared toward American citizens, not illegal aliens.

Alaska is embarrassingly slow in opposing REAL ID. Though not currently requiring implementation of the law, our state legislature's milquetoast stance is a far cry from vigorous and outright rejection. For a place that supposedly prizes personal freedom and independence, this reluctance to take a stand is pitiful.

The only two options at this point are equally dramatic: boot REAL ID into the legislative oblivion it so richly deserves, or roll out the welcome mat for one fearmongering British writer. His ideas have been looking for a home for a long time.

• Kevin Reeves is a freelance writer living in Haines.

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