WELL, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Two years ago, Congress passed the "Real ID" Act. The idea was to develop tamper and fraud-proof driver's licenses that would display the citizens' digital photo, signature, and other information via bar code.
This followed recommendations from the 9/11 Commission after it was learned that the hijackers in the 2001 terrorist attacks fraudulently obtained driver's licenses and other state identification.
Trouble is, many states are not on board. What was initially trumpeted as being in the best interest of national security has turned out to be the target of suspicion. Some fear what would amount to a national identification card would be more a license for the Bush Administration to snoop into private lives of citizens than a tool to rein in terrorists.
As a result, the federal government has been forced to twice extend the deadline for states to comply with the Real ID Act. Earlier this year, the government pushed the deadline to comply to the end of 2009. Now it's been moved back further, to 2013, long after this administration will be gone. The delays raise real questions about whether there ever will be a national ID plan at all. Other developments make a plan seem even less likely. So far, 38 states have introduced legislation to oppose the program, and in the last year, eight states voted not to participate in it.
Obviously, it will be tough to have a national ID if most states reject it. Congress also seems to be having second thoughts about what is projected to be a $14.6 billion Department of Homeland Security venture. Although Congress initially appropriated $40 million for it, lawmakers voted against increasing funding twice this summer.
There are multiple reasons people are opposed to this. Some critics also believe national ID cards would make identity theft easier, not more difficult, as was promised. And thanks to the cavalier way the administration has treated civil liberties, many state officials understandably think a national ID card is really about giving the feds an easy tool to snoop on U.S. citizens.
People are fed up with the authorities intruding into their lives. Homeland Security bureaucrats have a tough job ahead, and telling noncompliant states that their citizens won't be prevented from flying or entering federal buildings is not enough to convince the public that this is a good idea. That's a strategy that would backfire anyway because it once again focuses on the wrong target: U.S. citizens, not terrorists.
It's time for the government to admit this was an idea whose time hasn't come, drop Real ID, and get back to fighting what real terrorists there may be.