Back in 2005, Congress enacted the "Real ID" Act. This law, which Congress enacted unanimously, with no discussion, and without even reading the bill, imposed national standards to insure state-issued identity documents couldn't be counterfeited or falsified.
Real ID seemed relatively harmless, except for one key component: the creation of inter-connected state databases to include details on nearly 250 million licensed drivers. Any state could interrogate any other state's database. And naturally, the federal government could interrogate any state database. As such, critics, including myself, accused Congress of imposing a national ID card through the back door.
Three years later, the Real ID initiative is moribund. Legislators in nearly 30 states have refused to go along with this federal mandate. And while the Department of Homeland Security has issued "extensions" to the May 2008 compliance deadline, most states appear to have no intention of complying.
Perhaps that's the reason that on July 22, 2008, in a joint press release from Departments of State and Homeland Security, the government announced that it's now producing something called the "U.S. passport card."
According to the news release,
"The passport card facilitates entry and expedites document processing at U.S. land and sea ports-of-entry when arriving from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. The card may not be used to travel by air. Otherwise, it carries the rights and privileges of the U.S. passport book and is adjudicated to the exact same standards."
Sounds harmless enough. But I think there may a hidden agenda.
First, consider that any company that employs anyone in the United States must now verify the identity and employment eligibility of all new employees. Wouldn't it be great if the new passport card could be used for that purpose? Well, it can...what a coincidence!
Second, consider that according to the news release:
"To facilitate the frequent travel of U.S. citizens living in border communities and to meet DHS’s operational needs at land borders, the passport card contains a vicinity-read radio frequency identification (RFID) chip. This chip points to a stored record in secure government databases. There is no personal information written to the RFID chip itself."
So, what do we have here? Essentially, we have an identity document you can use both to confirm your identity in the United States and at U.S. borders. What's more, since it's equipped with a RFID chip, the government can add driver's license data any time it wants.
I wouldn't be surprised if after a decent interval—six to 12 months—DHS issues another press release to announce that the passport card can be used for all "federal purposes" that the Real ID initiative was supposed to address. In plain English, that means you'll need Real ID compliant driver's license, a passport card (or an actual passport) to travel on an airplane or enter any secured federal facility, such as a federal courthouse or even a Social Security Office.
Of course, since the passport card is a federal initiative all along, there's no longer a need for a national interconnected database of drivers' license information. The feds will have something even more valuable—and dangerous—a national database it can use for whatever purpose it deems suitable without any state-imposed restrictions.
Should this scenario come to pass as I anticipate, the government will have effectively bypassed state opposition to the Real ID Act and imposed a national ID, albeit in a very sneaky way.
I hope that I'm wrong, but if not—you read it here first.
Copyright © 2008 by Mark Nestmann