Members of the 9/11 Commission suggested it. Twice, Congress
passed laws requiring it. Yet, more than six years after the 9/11
attacks, America still lacks voluntary national standards for
identity cards such as driver's licenses.
But that may change soon.
Last month, the Department of Homeland Security finally
announced a plan to establish minimum standards for state-issued ID
cards that are used for federal purposes (such as passenger
screening at U.S. airports).
Although some states have vowed to challenge this
plan, Maryland, to its credit, is not among them.
The program that would set up these standards is usually called
Real ID (a nickname that came from the title of one of the
congressional laws). And there is no reason why states should fail
to comply with it.
In truth, the Real ID standards are nothing new. They're the
kinds of measures organizations such as the American Association of
Motor Vehicle Administrators have long suggested to combat fraud,
identity theft and other crimes, as well as to improve customer
service. It's just that nobody listened.
Then 9/11 happened, and Americans discovered that terrorists had
fraudulently obtained or misused almost two dozen driver's
The 9/11 Commission concluded that "the federal government
should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and
sources of identification, such as driver's licenses." Congress
Chief among the arguments used against Real ID is the notion
that the law would require a national database. Wrong. All the
identity-card information would still be under the control of the
state. If Maryland complied with Real ID, federal officials
wouldn't know any more about you than they already do.
The law does not invade individual privacy or increase
opportunities for identity theft. In fact, the standards
established by Real ID do the opposite. The law, for example,
requires background checks of all personnel who issue licenses -
the people who will have access to your sensitive personal data.
States retain their sovereignty and traditional
And, no, the law isn't a massive unfunded mandate from
Washington. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security has worked
hard to make the implementation of Real ID less costly, and there
are federal funds available to help establish the program. States
are far more likely to save money because of reductions in identity
theft, entitlements fraud and other crimes.
Real ID is a sensible program for improving the authenticity of
identity documents. Real ID isn't a national identity card or even
"Big Brother" light. And in the end, it would probably help states
Sincere opponents of Real ID have all the right concerns.
Government shouldn't intrude irresponsibly into our lives or
threaten our freedoms and privacy. Washington shouldn't hand out
unfunded mandates. And states shouldn't run around implementing
security measures that don't make us safer.
The concerns are correct, but aiming these criticisms at Real ID
isn't. The folks in Washington have worked hard to implement the
program in a way that addresses them. They've done the right thing
in this case. Let's give them credit for that and move on.
James Jay Carafano
is senior research fellow for national security and homeland
security in the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the