PACKET RAT: Know thyself? Not without the proper paperwork, pal

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

The Rat spent his 4th of July vacation doing more than flipping burgers and dogs on the family hibachi. He was also flipping out, over a combination of recent events in the world of identity.

'Real ID?' the whiskered one whined regarding legislation attached by Congress to a military spending package back in May. 'So what is this driver's license I have now, Fake ID?'

The Real ID Act'which puts driver's license standards in the hands of the Homeland Security Department and gives states two years to meet whatever standards DHS comes up with for licenses and other state-issued identifications'may be a well-intentioned effort to help prevent terrorists from obtaining credentials with which to do evil.

But states that have rushed ahead to implement their end of the law have found it, at minimum, to be a boon to fee collections and long lines at the DMV.

One hapless soul, reporting on an e-mail list the Rat frequents, described his attempt to exchange an Illinois driver's license for a Missouri license. Even though he had previously been a licensed Missouri driver, he fell into a bureaucratic morass straight out of a Joseph Heller novel (or perhaps something by Kafka).

Need a license? You need a birth certificate or a passport. To get a passport, you need to have a birth certificate. To get a copy of your birth certificate, you need ... ahem, a passport or your original birth certificate.

The reaction among civil libertarians to this new national ID law masquerading as a driver's license standard has been, if anything, predictable. The word 'Gestapo' is getting used with great frequency to describe the law, which according to bill author Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), will 'assist in our war-on-terror efforts to disrupt terrorist operations and help secure our borders.'

A group of self-proclaimed 'Real ID Rebels' have set up a blog at < href=""> to promote resistance to the legislation. Among the points they make is that the act amounts to another monster of an unfunded mandate for the states. Unless, of course, they figure to pay for it with all the fees they collect for copies of birth certificates and other vital records bought to get new driver's licenses.

On the other end of the spectrum, Sun Microsystems Inc. CEO Scott McNealy'the same guy who declared once upon a time, in regard to Internet privacy, 'You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it!''is looking forward to providing the electronic national ID cards of the future.

The Java Card standard, which Sun promotes and the Java Community Process oversees, is part of the new electronically readable passports that you'll need to go get a copy of your birth certificate. And at the JavaOne conference, McNealy proposed its use as part of what he sees as the answer to the growing health care crisis'a national health care identification network.

'I don't want to call it a national ID card,' McNealy said. But then he added, 'I wouldn't mind having a card that, because I had consented to (being put in a database of prescreened people), would mean I wouldn't have to take my shoes off every time I go to the airport.'

'Well, happy Independence Day to you, too, Scott!' the Rat raved.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at :[email protected].

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