Thursday, April 06, 2006

NH House says NO to REAL ID ACT

Two weeks ago, Congressman Jeb Bradley had a town hall meeting in his hometown of Wolfeboro. It was a long and contentious meeting. The main concerns of the constituents were the war in Iraq, the budget, the deficit, and Medicare Part D. A man who identified himself as a Kennebec Indian expressed concern that he would soon need a passport to travel to Canada, gently chiding Bradley for a policy he felt wasn’t very neighborly. Congressman Bradley, eager to explain, began to tell this fellow about the REAL ID ACT, and why it was a good thing. A young man leaped up in another part of the room and bellowed, “You mean the National ID Card??” This caused a moment of silence, followed by applause from many in the room. I’ve heard Bradley explain REAL ID as being a way to fight terrorism and root out undocumented immigrants. I’ve never heard him discuss any of the other ramifications of REAL ID – especially the cost.

Right around the same time Bradley was smiling and telling us why Real ID is good, the NH House voted on HB 1582, a bill declaring that NH would not participate in the REAL ID ACT. This bill was heard in the Transportation Committee. The committee didn’t like REAL ID, but decided that NH should comply now, in the hopes of changing it later. The committee voted to recommend the bill ITL (inexpedient to legislate). When it went to the floor for a vote, a number of stirring speeches were made, including one by Representative Neal Kurk who invoked the words Patrick Henry delivered to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1785. As one representative told me later, “The House was in a rebellious mood that day.” The House voted 217-84 to go against the committee recommendation and refuse to cooperate with the federal government meddling in our state business.

The REAL ID ACT was voted into law last year. After it barely passed the House, it was inserted into a military appropriations bill, to ensure its passage in the Senate. It establishes a federally approved, electronically readable ID card. This card would be required to open a bank account, travel by air, or collect Social Security. Your state driver’s license would have to meet federal ID standards established by the Department of Homeland Security. Those standards have yet to be established. The state DMV would issue this ID, but a far more rigorous process would be required in order to prove citizenship. The DMV employees would verify the documentation, digitalize the information, and store the information. All states would link up these databases – creating a national database.
The REAL ID ACT requires that the cards be electronically readable, but leaves the details to Homeland Security. It will most likely be electronically scannable. They like the idea of embedding RFID chips in the cards. RFID chips emit a radio signal to a transponder, notifying the transponder of its whereabouts. It’s great for tracking luggage at the airport. It will also be handy for the Dept. of Homeland Security to track the location of any one of us. Since Homeland Security has unilateral control over the ID requirements, the requirements will be subject to change at their whim.

The Bush administration estimated this would cost $100 million to implement. Other studies show that this is a woefully low figure. REAL ID compliance will cost Pennsylvania approximately $85 million and Virginia could pay up to $169 million. Estimates show that it will cost as much as $12 million to convert NH – yet the federal government is only giving us $3 million. Guess who will be picking up the rest of the tab for yet another unfunded Bush mandate?

A brief review: our Congressional delegation voted in favor of an electronically readable ID card that must comply with unknown standards set by the Dept. of Homeland Security. The data gathered by the DMV will be put into a database, which will be part of a nationally linked database. Anyone who swipes the card through an electronic device will have all the information contained in the card. The cards may also have tracking chips embedded in them. The federal government has set aside an insufficient sum for state DMVs to make the transition. Bottom line friends – we’re getting a National ID card, our personal information will be in a national database – and we’re going to pay for the privilege!

Bravo to the NH House for voting in favor of HB 1582. REAL ID is going to be an expensive violation of our privacy. Anyone who doesn’t think that a national database provides a wonderful opportunity for hacking, identity theft, and selling of information is unconscious. The threat of terrorism must not be used to manipulate us into sacrificing our civil liberties and our privacy. REAL ID goes into effect in 2008. There is still plenty of time to stand up and say NO. Other states will very likely be emboldened to do the same. To suggest that we comply now and change it later is weak and cowardly. Trying to change a system afterward is difficult and costly. Far better to not implement it in the first place. If non-compliance means we can’t enter federal buildings, I guess that means we won’t need to be paying federal taxes, either. It’s about time we rebel against the constant threats to our civil liberties and our privacy. NH is just the state to lead that rebellion.

The NH Senate will be hearing HB 1582 on Monday, April 10th, at 1 pm. There will be a press conference with NH Caspian at noon in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building on N. State St. NH Caspian is an organization working against electronic tracking devices and other invasions of privacy. You can learn more about them at . Let’s encourage our state senators to stand tall and vote for HB1582.

“I don’t believe that the people of New Hampshire elected us to help the federal government create a national identification card. We care more for our liberties than to meekly hand over to the federal government the potential to enumerate, track, identify, and eventually control.” NH State Representative Neal Kurk

This should appear in the Conway Daily Sun on April 7, but there are no guarantees when it comes to my work. I also feel compelled to say that this may be the only time I ever agree with Representative Neal Kurk.

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