Recently, at Gov. Mark Dayton’s request, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent representatives to meet with members of the Minnesota Legislature regarding the REAL ID Act. The purpose of the meeting was to provide information to lawmakers to ensure that decisions on the REAL ID Act and a 2009 Minnesota law prohibiting its implementation are based on facts.
Unfortunately, many of the myths that caused the Legislature to prohibit REAL ID compliance have since resurfaced. A special session should be called so that legislators can have an opportunity to consider these issues and debate them openly, on facts rather than myths.
Jim Harper of the CATO Institute recently wrote a commentary (“Relax, Minnesota: REAL ID deadline isn’t for real,” Oct. 1) urging legislators to, “[f]or the sake of privacy and liberty, balanced budgets and preservation of their authority … turn and face down the DHS by declining to implement the REAL ID Act.” His reasons are all too familiar: REAL ID is a national ID program and DHS will never enforce the REAL ID Act at the airports.
Neither of these claims could be further from the truth. The term “national ID” is intended to provoke an Orwellian fear that driver’s licenses are being co-opted by the federal government to track law-abiding citizens. However, REAL ID was written specifically to ensure that state licenses remain state licenses. States retain control over their issuance and production processes, card design and any data collected. What REAL ID does do is prohibit federal agencies from accepting driver’s licenses that do not subscribe to best practices to prevent fraud and counterfeiting.
Enforcement of REAL ID has already begun. Starting Saturday, enforcement expanded to all federal facilities that have a “facility security level of 3, 4 or 5, as well as military facilities,” according to a document released by the DHS last month, “REAL ID Act of 2005 Implementation: An Interagency Security Committee Guide.” Federal agencies will treat Minnesota driver’s license cardholders as having no ID at all. Depending on the agency or department, an individual with a Minnesota driver’s license may be denied access, have to present additional identification or will have to be escorted. And that is only the beginning of Minnesota’s headaches if nothing changes. In 2016, the DHS will expand REAL ID enforcement to the airports.
Harper noted that it is politically infeasible for the Transportation Security Administration to enforce REAL ID at the airports. That may have been true four or five years ago, when the number of noncompliant states was greater. However, there now are only four states and one U.S. territory that do not meet the standards. Among those, New Hampshire legislators have already introduced a measure to correct a similar prohibition, and New York and Louisiana have asked the DHS for an extension, leaving Minnesota the odd man out.
The privacy implications of any government action should be carefully considered. Minnesota should examine the REAL ID Act and what’s been done by other states, such as Arizona, which recently provided its residents the option to obtain a REAL ID credential. Should Dayton call a special session, the Legislature may discover that the REAL ID standards contain numerous and robust privacy protections designed to deter identity theft and fraud.
Andrew Meehan is policy director for Keeping IDentities Safe in Washington, D.C .