It was a warm spring day in St. John’s, Antigua. Driving on the left, as is the custom in much of the Caribbean, was a bit of a challenge, but eventually I found the building I was seeking. In it was the office for the Antigua & Barbuda Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU), where I had an appointment.

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After parking nearby, I grabbed my passport, driver’s license, and other identifying documents and walked toward the entrance. A smiling attendant greeted me and asked where I was going. “The Citizenship by Investment Unit,” I responded. “Third floor, turn right,” she responded, then turned, pressed the “up” button on the elevator, and motioned for me to enter.

Once I arrived at the CIU, I presented my passport to a woman sitting at a desk near the entrance. “Oh, we don’t need this,” she told me. “Do you have a business card?” I did, and I presented it to her. Shortly afterward, my meeting began.

This unremarkable incident was noteworthy, if only for the contrast of entering a government facility in Antigua versus entering one in the US. I don’t know if you’ve visited a federal office building in the recent past, but if you have, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a bit like going through the security screening at an airport, except the screeners are even ruder.

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First, you’ll need to empty your pockets. You put your belongings, plus anything metallic (like a belt) in a basket that’s X-rayed. Then you walk through a screening device supposedly designed to detect explosives. All the evidence suggests these precautions don’t work and that if someone really wants to smuggle explosives into a federal building, it’s a simple matter to do so. (Read this account, for instance.) But we continue engaging in this “security theater,” so the “sheeple” think the government is “doing something” to protect us.
And guess what, folks?

It’s Now Become a Lot Worse…

Back in 2005, our Congressional “kleptocrats” snuck an obscure provision into a military spending bill that, in effect, creates the first national ID card in US history.

The Real ID Act imposes security, authentication, and issuance standards for American state driver’s licenses and state ID cards… 43 separate requirements in all.

Any state-issued ID that doesn’t comply with the new standards will no longer be acceptable for admission to “federal facilities,” including airports, government offices, etc.

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If you have an outstanding violation in any other state — even an unpaid speeding ticket from decades ago — you won’t get your new high-tech license. And you may have to negotiate a bureaucratic labyrinth worthy of a Franz Kafka novel to resolve the problem.

Legislators in more than two dozen states refused to go along with this unfunded federal mandate, which is estimated to have cost states more than $10 billion to implement to date. In response, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which set a deadline of May 11, 2008, for compliance with the law, postponed the deadline five times.

As of now, only a few states are in full compliance with the new rules. Identification documents from Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York do not meet the law’s standards, according to DHS. A total of 25 other states have applied for waivers to give themselves more time to meet the standards.

According to the DHS, “Individuals holding licenses from noncompliant jurisdictions will need to follow alternative access control procedures.” What that means is that if you want to enter a facility described in the Real ID Act and don’t have a compliant ID, you’ll be turned away unless you have an “acceptable second form of ID,” e.g., your passport.

The final Real ID regulations are being implemented in four phases. Phases 1 and 2, which regulate access at restricted areas (i.e., areas accessible by federal employees, contractors, and their guests), are already in effect for all federal facilities and nuclear power plants. Phase 3, which restricts access to federal facilities subject to ID access control, just came into effect January 19. Phase 4 comes into effect “no sooner than 2016” and will prohibit you from boarding a domestic flight without a Real ID compliant identification document.

Why the Real ID “Cure” Is Worse Than the “Disease”

Supporters of the Real ID initiative claim that it merely establishes commonsense standards to ensure identity documents can’t be counterfeited or falsified. That, in turn, they say, will reduce terrorism, illegal immigration, and a host of other social ills. (After all, they point out, four of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks used state-issued driver’s licenses to board the planes they later crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.)

If only that were true. It’s not. It’s just more security theater. Harder-to-forge IDs won’t stop terrorism, because making sure someone is who they claim to be doesn’t prove they won’t commit a terrorist act.

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Most terrorists have no previously known links to terrorism. Many of the 9/11 hijackers had no previous links to terrorism. Neither did Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Then there’s the matter of whether Real IDs will actually be, well, real. Proponents say the high-tech identity documents produced under the initiative will be tamperproof and impossible to counterfeit.

But this claim is a bald-faced lie. We need look no further than the newest generation of US passports — those equipped with a supposedly tamperproof radio frequency ID (RFID) chip similar to the one slated to be inserted into all Real ID compliant identity documents. Hackers have shown it’s almost child’s play to clone an RFID passport. Is it too much to imagine that clever hackers will similarly find a way to hack Real IDs?

But the most threatening aspect of the Real ID initiative is its creation of the equivalent of a national database to include details on 250 million licensed drivers. Each state must provide electronic access to all other states to information contained in its motor vehicle database.

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An interlinked system is a far greater security risk than a decentralized one, with each state issuing ID cards according to its own rules. That’s because if hackers manage to penetrate it, they’ll have access to identity documents in all 50 states — not just one. And not just driver’s licenses. The Real ID law requires that states store digital copies of the identification documents you present to qualify for your driver’s license. That means hackers will be able to copy your birth certificate, your passport, your Social Security card, and any other document you submitted to get your “secure” driver’s license.

Moreover, since there’s no requirement that the data on your Real ID be protected in any way, private companies can use the information in it at will. Every retailer that requires identification will swipe your Real ID and then sell the data to information aggregators to be data mined at will.

It makes me nostalgic for the “good old days” when applying for a driver’s license merely meant an encounter with a grumpy and incompetent clerk. Now it means exposing your most sensitive data to theft by anyone clever enough to hack into the Real ID database.

Maybe it’s time to go back to Antigua, or at least somewhere else that takes privacy more seriously than the US!

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What’s in Your Wallet? Coming Soon: a National ID Card

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