Released DHS Regulations on Real ID Fatally Flawed: ACLU Calls for True Protections for Californians

Mar 02, 2007
Nicole A. Ozer

Page Media

ACLU of Northern CA

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, today, called on lawmakers to push for a major overhaul of the Real ID Act, calling it a "real nightmare" for Californians. The Department of Homeland Security's recently proposed delay for implementing the act would do nothing to prevent a national identity card system that violates personal privacy and increases identity theft, all while creating bigger bureaucratic messes, longer lines, and higher fees at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Real ID Act, a national ID card system that would federalize and standardize state driver's licenses, was forced through Congress in 2005 as part of a must-pass military appropriations bill. It will require every person in the country to have a Real ID-compliant identification document in order to fly on commercial airlines, enter government buildings, open a bank account, and more. DHS's proposed delays in implementation underscored the massive costs without addressing the underlying flaws.

"Real ID is a misguided scheme that was rushed through Congress without adequate consideration of the real costs to Americans, both in privacy and security and in dollars. Congress should repeal the Act and go back to the drawing board,"says Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director, ACLU of Northern California.

With the personal information of almost every American encoded on cards in a common machine readable manner and then stored in a massive database, the potential impact on privacy and security would be overwhelming, not to mention a "one-stop shop" for a hacker or identity thief. The draft regulations recently released by the DHS have done nothing to address the fundamental privacy, security, and bureaucratic concerns.

In Congress, Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), John Sununu (R-NH) and Representative Tom Allen (D-ME) have introduced legislation to add important privacy and civil liberties safeguards to the Real ID Act. Their similar bills would eliminate most of the requirements that laid the foundation for a National ID card. Their bills also call for more flexible "standards" instead of the current uniform mandates. The bills would prohibit the use of license data by third parties, require data encryption and preserve any state privacy laws that may provide greater protections.

"The Real ID Act is the nightmare from hell brought to you by the folks who 'ran' the Katrina recovery" said Valerie Small Navarro, an ACLU Legislative Advocate, "Real ID creates huge burdens for Americans, places a massive unfunded mandate on state governments and fails to provide real security. We urge the Governor and California lawmakers to pursue proposals like the Akaka-Sununu bill and the Allen bill to restore privacy protections."

"While the regulations get a failing grade, we are at least heartened that the Department of Homeland Security has finally realized that Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, also termed a "contactless chip," is not appropriate for inclusion in the identification documents we carry everyday, like our drivers'licenses, because it allows personal information to be read at a distance,"added Ozer. The regulations stated that "[t[he integrated contactless chip was not deemed an appropriate technology for this particular document, as there is not an identifiable need for drivers' licenses and identification cards to be routinely read at a distance."

Either the government or an identity thief equipped with an inexpensive reader can use it for tracking and monitoring people walking down the street or attending a political protest, or stealing someone's personal information to use for identity theft. [Read press release on the Feb. 28, 2007 RFID security controversy at major national conference.]

States across the country have already come to the realization that Real ID is a really bad idea. A growing bipartisan rebellion against Real ID is currently underway within the states. In January, the Maine legislature passed a resolution rejecting participation in the ID scheme, and similar legislation has been passed by one chamber in the legislatures of Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming. Bills rejecting Real ID have also been introduced in Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Washington and West Virginia, with more expected in the coming weeks.

The full press release can also be found here.

The draft DHS Real ID regulations can be read here.

An MP3 recording of a teleconference on the regulations is available here.

The ACLU's Real ID scorecard is available here.

For more on the ACLU's concerns with the Real ID Act, go to

For up-to-date information about Technology and Civil Liberties issues, go to