Succession of national ID legislation establishes legacy of non-profit opposition
The placard to move national ID cards forward in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation becomes one more card to add to the number of embattled national identity programs in recent history. Successes with regulated worker cards, like the TWIC card, may have revealed a port of acceptability for those propelling a national ID card agenda. Legislators talked into surrendering privacy for security in the past by signing onto the Patriot Act and the Real ID Act (2005) seem content to move another form of national identity forward. The mandate would require all citizens to provide their biometrics [fingerprints, iris scans, DNA] on an ID card to work in America. This national ID initiative is the latest on the stack of many attempts to legislate the market for identity in America.
Advocates working against national identity found, over time, their work has become permanent due to the replicated, even redundant, efforts to precipitate national ID card programs. Privacy and technology counsels for the ACLU, Downsize D.C., EPIC, EFF and others have been busy in a narrow, yet, secure job market to stop new national identity initiatives. The 5-11 Campaign, a group committed to ending the proliferation of national identity, announced plans to move a once temporary campaign to a permanent non-profit venture on their second anniversary, May 11th; the date corresponding with the passage of the Real ID Act.
“It’s one constituency battling another for representation in Congress. It seems that 25 states who have opposed national identity for various reasons fall into an underrepresented category. I’m surrounded by the strongest advocates [against national ID] in the industry. Nevertheless, those who don’t want a national ID card still need more advocacy and more support for their identity rights,” says Sheila Dean, who recently retired the 5-11 Campaign for developing a non-profit, Americans for Identity Preservation.
Over 2 years ago, the release of national ID card regulations in drivers licenses challenged advocates in new and unusual ways. Regulations had a tangible reach into State’s coffers as an unfunded mandate due to national law, the Real ID Act. The law became controversial through its association with the border fence, immigration, surveillance and tracking technologies, and its ability to deny citizens the ability to bank, to travel or enter federal buildings based on identity prerequisites. While the Real ID Act is now considered “dead” at the federal level, all 50 states are still being held to benchmark compliance deadlines. Many of these States will receive grant monies towards standardizing drivers licenses after appropriations were passed for Homeland Security operations.
This may be why Southern lawmakers like Brett Geymann (D-LA) stated it is “only a matter of time” before America inherits a national ID. States like Nevada, who passed a resolution demanding a repeal of the Real ID Act, became an example of States where hard lines blurred as compliance costs became drastically reduced and some regulations appeared reachable, even reasonable due to economic incentives. They tried out the national ID program for 120 days and were met with overwhelming public disapproval. One consistency among states adopting the process: long lines of cranky motor vehicle license consumers. This was enough to propell Utah in the opposite direction of the program. Along with the lines, Florida, whose demand for identity articles to substantiate identity was already exhaustive, created unprecedented demands for identity articles. Florida editorial pages document drivers run ragged in search of obscure and sometimes non-existent documents in order to prove identity.
National identity seemed to be in the rear view after half of the nation came to an indirect consensus by rejecting the majority of costs and mandatory regulations over privacy concerns. An attempt to mitigate new legislation knocking off the “hard edges” came up for evaluation of the PASS ID Act last Summer. Shortly afterward, Representative Cohen introduced a bill to repeal Real ID and replace it with a negotiated rulemaking process. Others sought sponsorship of a comprehensive repeal of the Real ID Act leaving no bedrock to continue national ID systems.
Veiled threats to move forward PASS ID, an attempt to give Real ID a second life, lead to a draw on some efforts to repeal the Real ID Act in its entirety. The bullying persisted into 2010. Advocates continuing to help introduce comprehensive repeal legislation suffered from other political setbacks as some legislative offices wait until political climates become ideal. A burgeoning threat was added to discussions of another national biometric ID card seated by true believer Senator Chuck Schumer. This time as a prerequisite to work in place of current social security cards in Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
Arizona’s passage of SB 1070 forced immigration from the back burner to the forefront. The Obama Administration will consider national identity amid the most complicated issues of our time. Those fighting racial profiling, advocating privacy rights and individual liberty in an age of digital surveillance are comparing notes on the future of identity in context of immigration. United States citizens are confronting the forum where the future of human rights and State recognized identity will be paired or decoupled.
One thing remains sure, the arguments for and against national identity will continue to rage on and have for years.