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Country moves closer to a national ID card

The Baxter Bulletin | May 11 2005

If you think getting a driver's license can be a hassle now, Congress voted Tuesday to make it positively nightmarish.

Actually, the Senate approved an $82 billion spending bill for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. But included in that package was a rider for what's known as the Real ID Act. The House approved the package late last week.

The Real ID Act essentially turns your driver's license into a national identification card. Or at least licenses issued by 2008 will be. That's when the program is to start.

While some supporters say that's not the case, as proposed the measure will require federally approved identification to board a plane, open a bank account, use any government service, collect Social Security and even have access to federal facilities, from national parks to government buildings. The Real ID almost could be viewed as a national passport.

For states, the kicker is that the Real ID process is to be handled through their driver licenses agencies, and licenses will have to be reissued to meet standards established by the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security will determine if the driver's license/ID cards are acceptable and can be used for any official purpose.

It's being handled through Homeland Security because this is another part of the administration's war against terrorism, although it has been noted the 9/11 hijackers were in the United States legally and had legally issued driver's licenses.

Ostensibly, it also will help control illegal immigration while tightening access to the United States. Literally. Besides identification cards, the measure allows Homeland Security to construct physical barriers wherever it deems appropriate for security, be it on the Mexican border, the Canadian border, around government buildings, maybe even along state lines.

Critics say it will hinder those seeking asylum in America by requiring them to show documented proof of abuse and/or persecution in their homeland. One example given was that Christians fleeing Sudan would have to have proof they were being persecuted by the Sudanese government for being Christian.

But back to the driver's license/Real ID. Under the measure, state agencies still will issue the license/card, but it will be a little more complicated than going to the Revenue Office, taking an eye exam, paying your fee and getting your photo taken.

Among the federal requirements for a license/card will be a photo identity document, proof of birth date and address, proof that your Social Security number is what you say it is (it will have to be verified) and citizenship status. If you're from another country, you'll need a valid visa. Then the issuing agency will have to verify your documentation, digitize it and put it in permanent storage. States will link their databases, forming a nationally accessible database.

You may then be issued your license/ID that's expected to have at least your name, date of birth, sex, ID number, digital picture, address and a readable technology Homeland Security will authorize. That means the card will have a magnetic strip, bar code or radio frequency identification chip so it can be scanned.

The card also must have physical security features so it can't be tampered with, counterfeited or duplicated. Homeland Security will be allowed to determine any additional requirements, such as a fingerprint.

So, it looks as if not too far down the road things out of James Bond and sci-fi movies will be as common as the driver's license in your pocket. Think about the information you'll have to provide for it, then think about handing your driver's license/ID card over to a clerk so you can write a check, show proof of age, or even someday go into a federal building.

While you're thinking about that, you also might ponder the possibility of having to present your driver's license/ID card to cross a state line or get into — or out of — a city, all in the name of national security.

Sounds far fetched, doesn't it? But the measure is real, passed unanimously by the Senate with the military spending bill, and by a 368-58 vote in the House last Thursday. Even members of Congress who don't like the Real ID Act couldn't vote against funding for American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Is this what we're coming to in America? Are we really so fearful, so threatened by terrorists, refugees or illegal immigrants that we're on the verge of requiring a national identification card?

Will having uniform driver's licenses prevent terrorism? Is establishing a national database of everyone who has a driver's license/ID card going to stop illegal immigration? Does any of this make Americans safer?

It's something to think about, especially if the day comes when you go to get you're mail and you're greeted by a guard asking, "Your card, please."

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