By Peter C. Earle, AIER | The deadline of yet another, and perhaps the most insidious, element of the post-9/11 initiatives (a partial list of which includes the establishment of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and a never-ending international war against a nebulously-defined, noncorporeal enemy, “terror”) is less than one year from coming to fruition. Beginning no later than October 1, 2020, citizens of all US states and territories will be required to have a Real ID compliant card or US passport to board a commercial plane or enter a Federal government facility. Pundits citing the inevitability of what amounts to a national ID card have, regrettably, been vindicated.
Looking back, Social Security numbers and the cards bearing them broke ground for the path to a national identification system — thank you, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. For decades there have been pointed reminders that the cards were intended to be account numbers and not integrated into a government registry of American citizens.
Repeated efforts, starting in the 1970s, to forge identifiers from the Social Security system have been rebuffed: in 1971, 1973, and 1976. The Reagan Administration indicated its “explicit oppos[tion]” to a national identification system. Both the Clinton healthcare reform plan (1993) and a provision of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 requiring Social Security Numbers on driver’s licenses were rejected (the latter in 1999) to some extent upon the basis of tacitly constituting national identifiers for Americans.
There are any number of reasons why the alleged tradeoff between liberty and security that a national ID card represents are being misrepresented. Any system designed, maintained, and run by human beings is ultimately flawed, and in any case corruptible. The existing documents from which the information fed into the Real ID program are eminently vulnerable to forgery. To provide just one example: tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of Americans don’t have verifiable, “official” birth certificates.
And people can become radicalized after being issued their Real ID card.
The Real ID also represents the “last mile” in the ability of the state to track individuals in real time. With various electronic, social media, and cellphone tracking measures, there is always a delay; and one can choose not to use social media, not to own a cellphone, and opt into other methods of extricating oneself from the prying eyes of the NSA or other government agencies. But the Real ID — in particular, coupled with biometrics — fulfills Orwellian conceptions of the total surveillance state.
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