Today in 2005: The REAL ID Act is signed into law

May 11, 2012

Today in Legal HistoryWhat if the Federal Government decided that it wanted to create a national identification system?

And, as a part of that system, the government compelled state and local departments of motor vehicles (DMVs) to adhere to strict new guidelines on what data it collects from individuals for use on driver’s licenses?

What if that system also required DMVs to collect additional forms of identification, such as birth certificates, passports, and utility bills, store copies of those documents for up to ten years, and make them available on an expansive interstate data-sharing network?

Guess what?

The REAL ID Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush on May 11, 2005, does exactly that – and more.

If REAL ID brought about these kinds of changes, why wasn’t there much of a public outcry at the time of its enactment?

The Act was quietly attached to a “must-pass” Iraq War/Tsunami relief supplemental bill with very little congressional study, debate, and consideration.

However, we haven’t noticed the effects of REAL ID because it hasn’t gone into effect yet.

How is this possible?

REAL ID’s effectiveness relies on action being taken by the individual states.

Because the states have been very reluctant to make these changes, REAL ID has not been implemented nationally as of yet.

Its prospects without further federal action aren’t terribly positive.

Bush signs REAL ID

President Bush signs REAL ID into law

The states’ refusal to comply with REAL ID is based in the burdensome administrative, technological, and bureaucratic changes required by the Act, in addition to the lack of funding provided to implement these changes.

Although there’s no actual mandate requiring states to issue REAL ID cards, when the program is fully implemented, all citizens will need those IDs to board planes, enter federal buildings, and receive federal benefits.

Though this may seem like an effective federal mandate for state compliance, it becomes quite difficult to require a REAL ID to board an airplane nationwide when half of the states refuse to issue them.

Because of this opposition, the Department of Homeland Security has had to continually push back the deadline for the states to be in full compliance with the READ ID Act from its original date of May 11, 2008.

Currently, the deadline is set for January 15th, 2013, but it’s likely that date will, again, be pushed back.

Although state opposition is one of REAL ID’s largest hurdles to implementation, it certainly isn’t the only issue the Act faces.

Aside from the obvious privacy concerns raised by the prospect of a nationally accessible central database containing vast quantities of personal identification documents and information, REAL ID’s interstate database also raises concerns about identity theft – that the system creates a “one-stop shop” for identity thieves.

There have also been questions over the constitutionality of REAL ID.

Specifically, critics claim that, in violation of the Tenth Amendment, the federal government, through REAL ID, usurps state police powers in regulating driver’s license and other forms of state identification.

These concerns may well be moot, though, since it’s unlikely that REAL ID is going to take effect nationally anytime in the near future.

Such an event would require the federal government to take sweeping action to force the states to implement REAL ID.

Considering the current political environment – one that is very hostile to “government mandates” – this is very unlikely to happen.

So while it is somewhat disturbing to have a law like REAL ID on the books, as long as states continue to oppose implementation, the Act is effectively dead in the water.