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Originally published Friday, February 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Froma Harrop / Syndicated columnist

Overwrought opposition to a secure national ID card

Airport security lets us onto an airplane based on our state-issued driver's license. So it made sense for the 9-11 commission to recommend...

Airport security lets us onto an airplane based on our state-issued driver's license. So it made sense for the 9-11 commission to recommend creating federal standards to ensure that the people flashing their driver's licenses are who they say they are.

In 2005, Congress passed the "Real ID" law to achieve just that. Though a secure form of identification is the simplest and least discriminatory tool for preventing terrorist attacks, it has lots of enemies.

Missouri state Rep. Jim Guest, a Republican, has called Real ID "a frontal assault on the freedom of Americans." It's frankly hard to see what freedom is under assault other than the freedom to lie on your driver's license. Perhaps Guest can elaborate.

Such scare talk has addled brains in places like Maine, where the Legislature recently voted to demand that Congress repeal the Real ID law. Washington, Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma and several other states are in various stages of revolt — and expressing shock at a form of ID that's routine in the liberal democracies of Europe.

Cheap-labor advocates don't like Real ID because states would have to verify that the license applicant is in this country legally. Supporters of illegal immigrants feel likewise. The crazy fringes, meanwhile, portray a secure driver's license as the federal jackboots' weapon to control us all. Others just play the nut-job out of political expediency.

The 1986 immigration reform bill, which granted amnesty to more than 3 million illegal immigrants, originally contained a provision for a national ID system. During the debate, Rep. Edward Roybal, a Democrat from California, got up and warned, "We may face the danger of ending up like Nazi Germany." The ID provision was scratched off the bill.

These dramatics amazed the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, former president of the University of Notre Dame and chairman of a committee on immigration in the '80s. "There were all kinds of phony excuses," he told The Washington Post.

Under Real ID, states must check that the documents presented for getting a driver's license — such as a birth certificate or passport — are genuine. The licenses must also contain a digital photo and some form of biometric data, such as a thumbprint. Driver's licenses from states that don't comply would not be acceptable proof of identification at airports or federal buildings.

Some privacy advocates insist that Real ID would foster more identification theft. They are misinformed. It would do the opposite by cutting down on the use of counterfeit IDs.

In case you haven't noticed, there are no deep, dark personal secrets on your driver's license. With Real ID, the stuff on the face of the license would be pretty much what's there now. And that "sinister" bar code would contain the same information seen on the card. It doesn't lead to your bank account or love letters.

What on Earth could Maine lawmakers have been thinking — especially after having heard the testimony of a worker at their department of motor vehicles? Jennifer Pease explained that it was official policy to ignore expiration dates on passports and visas and to knowingly issue licenses and ID cards to illegal immigrants. One applicant was an Egyptian national from New York who had no intention of living in Maine and was facing deportation proceedings. His license was mailed to a post-office box in Portland.

When you have left-wingers, right-wingers, foes and friends of illegal immigrants, libertarians, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, several church leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union all lined up against a secure identity card, you know it's going to be tough sledding.

That, however, does not make it a bad idea.

Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is fharrop@projo.com

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