t's hard to believe Alaskans will stand for it. By the end of 2009, the federal government says Alaska and every other state must produce drivers licenses that effectively function as a national ID card. To issue a license, states must demand to see a birth certificate and proof of residence, verify those documents, make sure the license can easily be read by federal scanners, and link all the license information to a national database. If Alaska dares reject this intrusive, burdensome federal mandate, the feds will refuse to accept Alaska's ID for "federal purposes" and Alaskans will need a passport to board any domestic flight or visit any federal building or national park.
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What would we gain if we cave in to this unprecedented federal pressure?
- More bureaucracy. States would have to vet and maintain huge volumes of personal information, and would have to do most of it on their own dimes. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has made it clear that the states will pick up most of the tab - $23 billion nationwide over 10 years, by Homeland Security's own estimate.
- Less security. Mr. Chertoff complains 8,000 separate ID cards for various purposes in the United States make it hard to recognize forgeries and protect our borders from illegal immigrants or terrorists. But the Electronic Privacy Information Center, for example, argues that a single card is like having one key to many doors. In the wrong hands, that key can shatter security and privacy on a vast scale. Security experts also warn that terrorists and other criminals will find ways to forge REAL ID cards, no matter how expensive and difficult, to steal identities of honest citizens.
- Less freedom. A passport to fly to Seattle? To visit Denali? To walk into the Social Security office in downtown Anchorage? Ridiculous.
It is an absolute lie to say that a federally dictated driver's license is not a national ID.
It is absolutely a national ID. Homeland Security just refuses to call it that.
States are on their own to solve the implementation problems and cover the costs. If states balk, well, your citizens will be second-class, automatically suspect, because the feds reject any state ID that doesn't comply with federal rules.
There's no guarantee all this sound and fury will make us any more secure.
Seventeen state legislatures have taken a stand against the REAL ID Act. In 2006, Alaska Reps. Paul Seaton and Max Gruenberg led a successful effort to delay Alaska from complying. In 2007, a bipartisan group of state House members backed a resolution opposing the act. It languished in committee. So Alaska - a state that was in the forefront of protests against the worst of the USA Patriot Act - is still on the bubble about REAL ID.
Time to get off. REAL ID won't make living in the United States safer, just more controlled and complicated for ordinary citizens. This isn't just an overreaction to 9/11 and the tide of illegal immigration. It's a dangerous reaction. Alaska should say no. Congress should repeal a bill that passed with no debate or public hearings, that was tucked into a 2005 spending bill to cover the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and tsunami relief.
Duane Bannock, head of the state Division of Motor Vehicles, says he is neither for nor against REAL ID, but does point out that final regulations haven't been published yet, and that Homeland Security's revised regs may answer some objections. Maybe. But the devil isn't just in the details of REAL ID. It's in the idea.
We need reason to deal with the immigration issue and we need resolution to combat terrorism. A national ID born of fear defies both.
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