by Jim Harper, CATO Institute

In an effort to show progress with implementation of our national ID law, the Department of Homeland Security issued a press release just ahead of Christmas reporting that thirteen states had “met the standards of the REAL ID Act of 2005.” Their compliance is not actually compliance, though. Read on…

Next Tuesday, another ‘deadline’ for REAL ID compliance arrives. Due to widespread public opposition, the majority of states and their people are not complying with the national ID mandate. Many states “have not provided sufficient information, at this time,” the DHS release says. I think that’s bureaucratese for: “They’re ignoring REAL ID.” But it doesn’t matter. The states ignoring REAL ID have been granted deferments. I’ve been looking for the Federal Register notice making this deadline extension official so I can put it next to the deadline extension from March 9, 2007, and the one from January 29, 2008, and the one from December 28, 2009, and the one from March 7, 2011.

The states that have tripped over themselves to follow this federal mandate should feel slightly burned. They’re no better off than the states that did nothing. And states need never comply.

We all know by know that the federal government will never use the lever that REAL ID gave them to “force” compliance on the states. The law says that the federal government can refuse IDs from states that aren’t in compliance. Basically, that means TSA would send most American travelers to secondary search. But that means that the federal government—not the states—would be blamed for travel nightmares (even worse than we already experience) all over the country. Deadline extension after deadline extension after deferment make clear that the federal government is not going to hold up air travelers because of REAL ID.

Now, the states that DHS says are complying aren’t really complying. You see, DHS long ago retreated from the requirements of REAL ID and established a set of “material compliance benchmarks.” These are 18 steps that bring one closer to REAL ID compliance, but they are not REAL ID compliance. And many of them are things that states were doing anyway. So, to the extent DHS is trumpeting progress, it’s a rooster taking credit for the sunrise.

Nonetheless, REAL ID ‘progress’ is the stitching together of a system to track and control us through our nationally uniform identity cards. It’s the system that will be used to control our access to work, to housing, to medical care and medicine, to guns, to credit and financial services, and much more. Big government, thy administrative tool is national ID.

The DHS release is a little more muted about the $263 million dollars it has spent or distributed on REAL ID so far—a quarter of a billion dollars toward a national ID system nobody wants. The continued spending is probably what keeps a small coterie of DMV bureaucrats and allied groups pushing for a national ID.

These national ID advocates will be well-represented at a Heritage Foundation event on REAL ID January 28th. Heritage is bringing in a Department of Motor Vehicle bureaucrat from Connecticut, a representative of a small national ID advocacy group, and the co-author of a recent Government Accountability Office update on REAL ID. I’ll hope to learn—as I’ve never been able to do before—how the national ID program would increase our security more than it would cost us in dollars and privacy—a quarter billion dollars, so far, and still counting.

REAL ID–A Quarter of a Billion Dollars Gone (Cato Institute) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

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