Wednesday, May 11, 2005

check . . . and mate

Back in April, I wrote about the new passport standard and its possible implications for privacy. Well, the other shoe has now dropped: today Congress passed an emergency spending bill for the war in Iraq that includes a provision called Real ID which, essentially, establishes a national ID card. What the bill purports to do is set nationwide standards for state-issued driver's licenses, but effectively it's the same thing: every state-issued driver's license must have certain information on it, including "A common machine-readable technology, with defined minimum data elements".

To get a driver's license, you will need to present, at a minimum, the following information at your local DMV office (sec 202(c)(1)):
  • A photo identity document, except that a non-photo identity document is acceptable if it includes both the person's full legal name and date of birth.
  • Documentation showing the person's date of birth.
  • Proof of the person's social security account number or verification that the person is not eligible for a social security account number.
  • Documentation showing the person's name and address of principal residence.
It also makes it a matter of federal, not state, law that someone must present proof of citizenship or legal alien status to get a drivers license. (Sec 202(c)(2)(b).)

You can read Bruce Schneier's excellent article on the many reasons why this law is a bad idea here. They include the fact that it's an expensive unfunded mandate that won't increase security significantly, but will increase the chances of identity theft.

Assuming a "common machine-readable technology" is an RFID tag, it's probably not long before police cars get long-range RFID scanners that can read the tags from a distance. At that point, it becomes possible to drive by someone's house and determine who is in that house, or to log who's attending a meeting at the local church or synagogue.

Also, sec 203 requires states to link databases, and that the databases contain all information on the driver's license. So, your state driver's license number plus the state itself gives you a globally unique identification number that someone can use to track you.

How is this constitutional? Well, the federal government isn't ordering the states to do it. It just says (sec 202(a)(1)) that it won't accept a non-complying driver's license for any federal purposes. That would presumably include getting on an airplane.

Since the bill that contains the provision is a spending bill for the war in Iraq, Mr. Bush will, of course, sign it. You can thank Rep. James Sensenbrenner for this new law.

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