Why do we need Real ID? The official answer is that these federally required identification cards will bolster security and make air travel safer. But flying is already safe, and Zocalo commentator Joe Mathews sees more nefarious designs behind this mandate. In his telling, the real purpose of Real ID is to divide Americans. It’s also a hacking risk, and then there’s the fact that obtaining one these ID’s from the DMV is a major hassle. Mathews’ advice: don’t do it.
Read Joe Mathew's Connecting California column below:
Let's Get Real About Real ID
Do you love your freedoms?
Then defy your state and national governments—and refuse to get a “Real ID.” “Real ID” refers to state driver’s licenses that meet newly enforced federal guidelines. As of October 2020, you won’t be able to use a driver’s license to board a domestic flight or enter federal facilities unless that driver’s license a Real ID.
Real ID driver’s licenses have stars on them, but otherwise look like the licenses you already have. The difference is the privacy you must surrender; to get one, you have to produce original birth certificates, social security cards, proofs of residence, and information confirming your lawful status in the U.S.
Such requirements may sound like they boost security, but the opposite is true. New security risks are created when people submit more identification into databases searchable by a government already surveilling our calls and digital communications. Real ID provides new ways for hackers and terrorists to steal our identities, and for governments to discriminate against us.
By tying Real ID to travel within the country, the American government is creating an “internal passport” of the sort that oppressive regimes (like North Korea) use to limit their people’s freedom of movement, and to create distinct classes of citizens.
With state governments—including, disgracefully, California’s—encouraging people to get Real IDs, the best defense is defiance. If enough Americans opt out, Real ID can’t become the standard. Those 100 million people without Real IDs, or other federally approved IDs like passports, shouldn’t get them. Those of us with compliant IDs, like passports, should refuse to present them, and insist on accessing airports and government buildings our tax dollars pay for.
This American horror story started with 9/11, when hijackers used fraudulently purchased driver’s licenses to board planes. After that, states cracked down on driver’s license fraud, and there haven’t been any hijackings since. But the American security state is relentless in monitoring us. Real ID legislation passed in 2005, with little debate, since it was part of a tsunami relief bill.
But many states, citing the costs of compliance and privacy concerns, resisted implementation of Real ID—and the government delayed enforcement until 2017, when the fearmongering Trump administration revived it, on anti-terrorism and anti-immigrant grounds. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security has pressured states to comply through carrots (more federal money) and sticks (states fear their citizens couldn’t board planes).
With the states having caved, Real IDs could become national IDs that are required for getting a job, renting an apartment, picking up a prescription, making hotel reservations, paying by credit card, or eventually—voting. Before long, those who can’t get Real IDs will be second-class citizens.
The whole idea is discriminatory—against Americans. Under Real ID, an international criminal with a valid passport can travel around our country. But your neighbor who can’t produce a certified birth certificate or Social Security card can’t fly to Phoenix to watch spring training baseball.
Real ID will increase government discrimination against immigrants, since those without Real ID will become ICE targets. Naturalized Americans are already being denied Real IDs because of bureaucratic suspicions about their foreign birth certificates. Security experts say Real IDs will be easily hacked, and since they are machine readable, will allow for wider tracking of individuals.
Real ID compliance is tying California’s overwhelmed DMV in knots, since the vast majority of our 27 million drivers don’t have Real ID licenses. In 2018, California issued two million Real IDs—before the Trump administration changed the standards for issuance without warning.
So let’s stop complying. California shouldn’t issue more Real IDs, and the legislature should bar businesses from requiring customers to show Real ID. Defiance isn’t easy, but it’s the best strategy we have. And it’s necessary, because Real ID is incompatible with life in a free society.
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.