No, Real ID Is Not a National ID CardS

Big Brother! Little Brother! Medium-sized Brother! Conspiracy-minded websites are ramping up the rhetoric in the lead-up to full enforcement of the Real ID Act, set to happen early next year. "It's a National ID card!" they scream. No, no it's not.

Back in 2005, the federal government set standards for what security features state-issued IDs need to have, along with mandating that the people issuing the IDs have all been thoroughly vetted with background checks. And after many, many extensions, the Feds now say that 2014 will be the year that full enforcement of the Act begins to go into effect.

What does all this mean for you? Well, if you're living in one of the 15 states/territories currently not in compliance with the Act, it means that by 2014 you could run into trouble gaining entry to federal facilities and nuclear power plants. And if your state isn't in compliance after 2016, it could mean that you won't be able to board commercial flights.

This, of course, is never going to happen. The Department of Homeland Security will simply continue to extend the deadline for all of these requirements until they meet a friendlier state legislature down the line that's willing to just concede.

What this is decidedly not is a National ID. The Real ID Act simply sets standards for IDs that states would be issuing anyway, and current legislative objections have little or nothing to do with privacy. There is no new national database being created. Like most ginned-up controversies, at its root it's about money.

The states most upset with Real ID see it as an unfunded mandate. And in some ways, they're right. Improving security features on driver's licenses and running background checks on the folks at the DMV are all things that cost money.

But fighting the Feds rarely works out well for the states. And in the long list of grievances that the average American citizen should have with their government right now, the enforcement of Real ID should rank somewhere just below disliking the color of gloves that DHS agents are wearing for your full cavity search.

It's already impossible for me to get on a plane today without a state-issued ID. What possible difference does it make if the Feds have set the standards for what that ID looks like? The federal government already sets all kinds of standards that states have to comply with, whether it's from the FDA about our food, the Department of Transportation about our cars and roads, or the EPA about our environment.

What's most odd about the conspiratorial concerns about a National ID (which, again, this isn't) is how quaint they seem when put up against the very real revelations of the last year. The U.S. government already has a massive database containing the phone and email records of every citizen. And our spy agencies are even going through the labor-intensive process of intercepting consumer electronics and installing malware as they're being shipped around the country.

It's almost cute that people can still get riled up about inconsequential shit here in the early 21st century. But the people who do so are really missing the forest for the trees.

Yes, virtually everything about our country's massive security apparatus is terrifying right now. But the prospect of a National ID card (which, again, the Real ID Act is not) seems the least of our worries.


Image: Associated Press