Organizations start campaign against Real ID

"Over Forty Groups Announce National REAL ID Public Campaign"

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Editor's note: This story was updated at noon May 4, 2007. Please go to Corrections & Clarifications to see what has changed.

Civil liberties and consumer organizations have started a national campaign against the Real ID Act regulations issued by the Homeland Security Department because they believe the new identification system will have serious negative effects on privacy and civil rights.

The campaign was announced May 1 by 43 organizations, and seven groups joined today, bringing the total of groups involved to 50. The purpose of the effort is “to stop the nation’s first national ID system,” the coalition said.

The organizations say they are worried about increased threat of counterfeiting and identity theft due to lack of security to protect against unauthorized access to the information on the ID cards.

They also object to the expense of the cards and to individuals’ loss of privacy and control of their personal information if the cards are breached or misused. Some civil libertarians suggest the negative consequences of a national identification card system could be extreme — such as allowing unprecedented government tracking of individuals and possibly hindering authorizations for jobs, medical care or housing — if the information is stolen or abused.

“Under the act, states and federal government would share access to a vast national database that could include images of birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce papers, court ordered separations, medical records and detailed information on the name, date of birth, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, address, telephone, e-mail address and Social Security number for more than 240 million [people], with no requirements or controls on how this database might be used,” the coalition said.

Congress passed the Real ID Act of 2005 on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission to standardize state-issued drivers’ licenses nationwide to curb abuses and prevent illegal aliens from obtaining ID cards by using false information. Several of the 2001 terrorists had valid U.S. driver’s licenses.

However, several state legislatures have rejected the Real ID Act requirements. To date, Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, Montana and Washington state have voted not to participate in implementing the Real ID Act because of its high costs and privacy concerns. State governments will have to spend about $11 billion on Real ID over five years, according to a September 2006 study by the National Conference on State Legislatures, the National Governors Association and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

The civil liberties groups also are concerned about increased costs for obtaining a license or state-issued ID card, and possibly “arbitrary and capricious” decisions at state agencies that may hinder persons from getting an ID card.

Public comments are due by May 8 on regulations to implement the Real ID Act .

Alice Lipowicz writes for Washington Technology, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

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