William Jackson | It's time to dump the Real ID Act


"The law is supposed to bolster national security, but instead endangers privacy and personal security." William Jackson

Opposition is building at both state and federal levels to the Real ID Act of 2005, the fatally flawed law that would impose a de facto national identification card in the form of state driver's licenses and IDs.

Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to repeal the law or extend the deadline for compliance, respectively, and resolutions have been introduced in 25 states either urging Congress to repeal or reform the law, or expressing a refusal to comply with it.

So far only one state, Maine, has passed a resolution of refusal to comply.
There are lots of reasons to dislike the law, which sets rigid standards for licenses and IDs issued by states. It is an unfunded mandate being administered by a department that apparently is ill-equipped for the job.

The deadline for implementing the law is May 2008, but the Homeland Security Department has yet to release regulations for compliance, which were due last year. The National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governors Association and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators estimate the act will cost states more than $11 billion over five years, but Congress has appropriated only $40 million for assistance to states.

My personal peeve is that the Real ID Act requires interconnected databases of personal information on each of the 245 million people receiving cards, with absolutely no safeguards on that data or restrictions on how it can be used.
The law is supposed to bolster national security but instead endangers the privacy and personal security of almost every U.S. citizen and resident.

Newly introduced Senate and House bills would correct the most egregious of the problems in the law.

The Senate bill, S 563, would extend the deadline for implementation, giving states until two years after final promulgation of regulations. The House bill, HR 1117, would repeal the Real ID Act and establish a negotiated rule-making process for ID standards in its place.

'It is not enough merely to delay implementation of this deeply flawed law,' Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine) said when he introduced the House legislation.

'Congress must replace it with legislation that does not infringe on the privacy rights of Americans, that does not put their personal information at risk ... and does not impose the burden of an unfunded financial mandate on state taxpayers.'
Both bills would include state representatives and third-party experts on privacy and civil liberties in the negotiation of final rules, and both would prohibit the commercial use of the collected data by third parties.

The Senate bill requires the final rules to 'protect the security of all personal information maintained in electronic form.' The House bill requires that data be encrypted during transmission but says nothing about protecting data at rest in the databases.

Although neither bill is perfect, either would be better than the current law. But rather than merely delaying or reshaping the Real ID Act, Congress needs to engage in a full debate on the advisability of establishing a national ID. The Real ID Act was passed without that debate'it was slipped into a spending bill that provided funding for troops and tsunami relief.

Only if the American people and their representatives agree that such a step is warranted, does Congress have to worry about implementing it in a way that is fair, reasonable and secure.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


  • Records management: Look beyond the NARA mandates

    Records management is about to get harder

    New collaboration technologies ramped up in the wake of the pandemic have introduced some new challenges.

  • puzzled employee (fizkes/Shutterstock.com)

    Phish Scale: Weighing the threat from email scammers

    The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Phish Scale quantifies characteristics of phishing emails that are likely to trick users.

Stay Connected

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.