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 V.16 No.3 | January 18 - 24, 2007 

News Bite

Bush as Big Brother

The ACLU says Bush’s Real ID Act is really bad news

In Washington, George W. Bush wants to party like it’s 1984. Meanwhile, the ghost of George Orwell taunts us from the grave: I told you so, suckers!

In another attempt to keep turban-sporting terrorists out of the States, the Bush administration has passed the Real ID Act, which, critics say, falls just short of tattooing bar codes on the asses of the American people [Re: Feature, “May I See Some Identification?” Aug. 11-17, 2005].

Passed by Congress without a single hearing in the Senate, the act purports to make America a safer place by requiring all citizens to hold a national identity card--a Real ID. If passed and implemented by individual states, the act will require citizens to possess a Real ID--not merely a driver’s license--to board aircraft, enter federal buildings, open a bank account or for any other “federal purpose.” Further, the act will establish a national database of personal information, shared among the states. This database, says Peter Simonson, executive director of the New Mexico ACLU, would provide a “one-stop shop” for hackers and identity thieves seeking personal information for nefarious purposes.

The act is unfunded and would cost New Mexico an estimated $37 million over the course of the first five years. Nationwide, the projected cost is upward of $11 billion.

State MVDs would be responsible for issuing Real IDs, which would shift the agency’s focus from ensuring road safety to enforcing immigration. Real ID would also make MVD lines longer and increase fees. “Going to the MVD is bad enough,” says Simonson. With Real ID, he says, waiting at the MVD “would cause fits of depression.”

More depressing is that Real ID would enable the government to monitor us: where we shop, what we eat, where we travel, how much we spend. The ID itself would contain a radio frequency microchip that could permit public and private entities to track our movements, habits and behaviors. The microchip could potentially store our driving record, bank information and criminal history. It could also be used as a marketing tool by industries to monitor our interests.

Simonson offers this scenario: A man passes by a porn shop and innocently takes a brief peek through the window. The window is equipped with a device that reads the man’s Real ID microchip, and shortly afterward, that man receives scandalous mail at home, where his suspicious wife--not a "Playboy" centerfold, by any stretch--throws him out in fury. Blame it on Big Brother.

A more probable threat posed by the act is to victims of domestic violence and others who rely on identity protection, as Real ID would require registration of their real home address. All MVD employees and police would have access to the Real ID database, as well as any hacker savvy enough to crack the system.

The ACLU takes issue with Real ID’s assumption that everyone is a criminal, and that everyone should be monitored. “We should stick with the tried and true method of actual criminal trial, rather than tracking innocent people,” says Simonson. “ID-based national security hasn’t worked,” he says, noting that most of the 9/11 hijackers held legitimate documentation and were traveling legally to the U.S.

The ACLU and other groups, including the National Governor’s Association, National Conference of State Legislators and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, have demanded that the Real ID Act be reformed.

In the first legislative session of 2007, New Mexico Rep. Ken Martinez and Sen. Michael Sanchez introduced a joint memorial opposing the Real ID Act. The memorial states, “Any new security measures to protect from terrorist attacks should be carefully designed to enhance public safety without infringing on the civil liberties and rights of citizens.” Santa Fe’s city council has also issued a separate resolution opposing the act.

Despite such opposition, the Bush administration is steadfast in its mission to become a bureaucratic Big Brother. For now, a word of caution: The next time you pass by a porn shop, don’t linger too long at the window--particularly if you’re wearing a turban.

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