People are talking about the federal Real ID Act today, 12 years after its passage, because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is telling people that, at long last, it’s going to enforce the provisions of the act that affect our daily lives.
Already, most federal facilities are off limits to anyone without a compliant driver’s license — that includes the residents of five states, including Maine — and after Jan. 22, 2018, citizens in noncompliant states without waivers won’t be able to use their IDs to board aircraft. (Another 20 states and five U.S. territories aren’t compliant, but they have extensions from Homeland Security to comply.) After 2020, Homeland Security will not accept noncompliant licenses at all, for any reason.
This Orwellian model, adopted in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, requires data aggregation of our most intimate details, with all the information controlled and accessible by the government.
For now, many in Congress just hope states will comply so they won’t have to make a decision on a choice between convenience and liberty. Never mind that making those tough decisions is supposed to be why good people run for office.
The Maine Legislature did take a stand in 2007, passing legislation unanimously that prohibited the Maine secretary of state’s office from complying with Real ID. Their rationale was that Americans have the right to privacy, that the government should not be able to track their movements or restrict them and that Americans should not be compelled to submit private identifying information about themselves to unknown and unseen officials who could access that information for unknown reasons.
Real ID required an enormous investment with no federal funding to support it, so the Congress made it optional — except if your state didn’t comply, then you couldn’t use your state-issued ID to access many federal facilities or board commercial aircraft. Pretty big stick with no carrot.
Since it was virtually impossible to implement the act, with neither time nor resources, Homeland Security employed a bizarre and inconsistent waiver process that has kept Real ID out of people’s minds all these years. But now, time’s up.
Maine legislators are responding because people are concerned they won’t be able to fly unless Maine complies with Real ID or that the veterans in their families won’t be able to access veterans’ services and a host of other functions.
In the coming months, the Legislature will reconsider its position as it debates LD 306, An Act to Require State Compliance with Federal REAL ID Guidelines, sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham.
Many tell me it’s time to comply, it’s not worth the fight, and that the public won’t accept the inconvenience that inevitably will come with noncompliance. Maybe they’re right.
But think about this: Adoption of the Real ID would be a reversal of 10 years of state policy regarding your personal freedoms and privacy, and it would achieve no recognizable policy goal. That may not be your biggest concern, but it ought to be.
If we were to comply with Real ID today and the 9/11 terrorists were to stroll into the Bangor branch of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and apply for Real IDs, the irony is that they would get them. After all, they had passports from their home countries and visas issued by the U.S. Department of State. They would have the necessary documents.
So Real ID doesn’t work. It won’t keep out illegal aliens because they come to America to work, not drive. If the State Department lets terrorists into the country, they’ll probably have plenty of documentation to get the credentials they need to blend in even better than the 9/11 terrorists did.
If you aren’t sure any of this is a big deal, get online. Check out the FBI investigations of clergy opposed to the Vietnam War, civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., or Marilyn Monroe under suspicion she might have ties to communists. The files are incredibly thorough, and that’s without access to all of the information that will be easily available to the FBI under Real ID.
In America we are blessed with the freedom to live without constant monitoring — even surveillance — by the government. Brave citizen-soldiers died at Lexington and Concord, Little Round Top, the Argonne Forest, the Ardennes, the Chosin Reservoir, in Helmand Province and in too many other places to ignore for the freedom we enjoy as Americans. Should we surrender that for a quicker airline boarding process?
Matthew Dunlap is the Maine secretary of state.