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    Update on the REAL ID National Identification System

    In the U.S., there has been substantial debate around the REAL ID national identification system. The REAL ID Act of 2005 mandates that state driver’s licenses and ID cards follow federal technical standards and verification procedures issued by the Department of Homeland Security. I believe it creates a national ID system: it enables tracking, surveillance, and profiling of the American public through the proposed interlinking of the motor vehicle databases of all 56 states and territories, the use of an unencrypted machine-readable zone on the state ID cards and driver’s licenses, and the ability for the system to be used for much more than the few purposes set out by the 2005 law.

    Among the problems I have detailed is that a national ID card would centralize identification. Centralized systems of identification will lead to more harm when they are, inevitably, compromised. A better system is one of decentralized identification, which reduces the risks associated with security breaches and the misuse of personal information. If one ID is compromised, all of the ID card are not spoiled and identity thieves cannot access all of your accounts.

    Now, CBS News reports on a move by the Department of Homeland Security concerning REAL ID:

    Americans will be able to use their driver’s licenses after May 11 to travel by air after all. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security today postponed the effective date of the Real ID Act until January 15, 2013, a move that avoided causing tremendous disruptions to air travel.

    The reason that Homeland Security granted the delay is that, apart from some Republican stalwarts in Congress, this law creating a digital nationalized ID is hardly popular, with critics calling it a national ID card. A chart (PDF) updated last month by the National Conference of State Legislatures lists 16 states with laws forbidding them to comply with Real ID and eight states including Colorado, Hawaii, and Illinois that have enacted resolutions effectively boycotting it. [...]

    Because Real ID links state DMV databases, establishes a standard bar code that can be digitally scanned, and mandates that original documents such as birth certificates be verified, backers claim the benefits extend beyond antiterror and ID fraud cases. (Extending it to firearm and prescription drug sales has not been ruled out.)

    Homeland Security’s announcement today (PDF) carefully neglected to mention the state-by-state revolt against these federal mandates, with state governments citing privacy, federalism, and funding for their refusal to cooperate. One estimate puts compliance costs as high as $11 billion. The 9-page announcement says:

    The inability of states to fully comply with the requirements of Real ID by May 11, 2011 is the result of a number of factors, including diminished state budgets caused by the economic downturn and the uncertainty throughout much of the 111th Congress about congressional action… Implementation of Real ID involves a significant financial investment, and, despite the receipt of substantial federal grant funds, a number of states are struggling to come up with the resources necessary to meet the full compliance deadline in these times of budget austerity.

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