The administration, with help from some fellow travelers in the GOP, is trying to repeal the REAL ID Act, which implemented one of the key 9/11 Commission recommendations about securing means of identification, based on the basic insight that “For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.” My colleague Janice Kephart has a piece out today on the need to preserve the current law, and the weaknesses in the fig-leaf replacement that is expected to be introduced in Congress any day now.
I know there are a lot of libertarian-minded folks on our side of the aisle who bristle at the very idea of improving document security. They don’t want any government identification system because of the possible threat to liberty, and since they can’t get that, then they’ll settle for a bad ID system instead. The problem is that in a modern, mobile, anonymous society, where you don’t spend your whole life in the same village with the same people, some universal ID mechanism is essential, and a bad one simply helps bad guys of all kinds conceal their nefarious activities. And the current system, reinforced by REAL ID, helps maintain the relatively decentralized approach that conservatives rightly favor, which has developed organically at the state level over the years via birth certificates and driver’s licenses. Without credible national standards, there will be an irresistable push for a single national ID the next time something big blows up here, which is a lot more likely to happen than it was before January 20.
There are really only two choices — tighten up the current decentralized ID system now by continuing to implement the REAL ID Act or have a unitary national ID shoved down our throats in the not-too-distant future.