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PA must turn its back on Real ID act COMMENTARY SARA MULLEN

THE DEPARTMENT of Homeland Security is forcing us to choose between two nightmares for Pennsylvanians.

Behind door No. 1: We comply with the Real ID Act, a federal mandate that requires all of us to carry a national ID card that will contain our personal information, and which can be scanned by a multitude of government officers and businesses. The information on the card will be entered into a vast national database vulnerable to identity theft and security breaches. We, as state taxpayers, have to pay for the massive program.

Behind door No. 2: We can refuse to comply with this mandate, allowing Pennsylvania residents to hold onto their private information. But then the Department of Homeland Security will threaten to block us from boarding planes, entering government buildings, verifying our eligibility to work or opening bank accounts.

These are our choices of the Real ID Act: no choices at all. There is a door No. 3 – reform the program or reject it – but we have to pry this door open to walk through.

The American people have never had a choice about Real ID. Tacked onto a must-pass defense spending bill, legislators passed the Real ID Act in 2005 behind closed doors in a late-night session before Americans could object.

The Real ID Act will create the first genuine national ID card in American history. All of our personal information, including Social Security numbers, addresses and dates of birth, and other sensitive data, will be accessed by the nation’s motor vehicle employees and all levels of law enforcement officials from the county sheriff to the FBI.

The Real ID card would become such an integral part of our lives that any glitch in the system could spell disaster for Americans, affecting everything from our ability to work to whether we can board an airplane – some have even suggested requiring a Real ID card to vote.

Real ID also will be incredibly difficult to implement. States will be required to overhaul their motor vehicle systems entirely. Yet DHS has yet to issue final rules to the states on how they can comply with this massive undertaking. They have missed deadline after deadline and now we hear the rules won’t be available for two or three more months. Meanwhile the deadline for state compliance with the law looms.

In addition to the privacy costs and administrative burden, states will have to shoulder the estimated $23.1 billion price tag of the program. Estimates for implementing this nightmare in Pennsylvania are a price tag of $100 million, tacked on to our already enormous transportation overhaul costs. The federal government’s contribution? Almost nothing.

Congress’ attempts to partially fund Real ID have been unrealistic so far, offering a pittance of the total cost to states. Efforts to raise the level of federal funding have stalled. Clearly this program is yet another burden imposed on the states by Washington, D.C.

Ironically, even the Senator who introduced legislation to fund Real ID, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., does not support the program. He has called it a national ID card and criticized it as an unfunded federal mandate. Numerous members of Congress, the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislators have said that if Congress refuses to fund Real ID, it must repeal it. Congress appears to have made its choice; only the latter option remains.

Never has a federal mandate received such fierce opposition. Seven states have resolutely turned their backs to Real ID, passing binding legislation forbidding their state governments and citizens from participating. Ten other states have passed resolutions condemning the program and calling on Congress to repeal it.

The Pennsylvania House and Senate have each passed a resolution to that effect, a sign that our elected officials are struggling with this frightening choice: sacrifice the privacy and identity security of our citizens and plunge us into fiscal irresponsibility, or put every one of us at the mercy of the Department of Homeland Security.

Pennsylvania should choose door No. 3. The time has come to stand up to the Bush administration’s false choices. Gov. Rendell should reject Real ID as both an unfunded mandate and an intolerable threat to Americans’ privacy. Now is the time for the governor to act decisively to prevent the impending Real ID train wreck and demand that Congress adopt an alternative path to identity security.

We can’t afford to entrust Pennsylvanians’ personal information to the agency that brought us the response to Hurricane Katrina and infamously inaccurate watch lists. Real ID is a real nightmare, and it’s time for Congress to wake up.

LEARN MORE

What: Real ID, Real Nightmare: A Town Hall Meeting

Who: Speakers include Jim Harper, director of information policy studies, Cato Institute, and state Rep. Sam Rohrer, R-Berks County. The meeting will be moderated by Larry Frankel, legislative director, ACLU of Pennsylvania.

When: 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday Where: Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel, ballroom section, 700 Lackawanna Ave., Scranton

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