- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If I were a betting man, I would wager most people haven’t followed the debate on REAL ID. If you indeed missed it, I would ask you take the time to learn about what I consider the most troubling piece of legislation I’ve seen come from Washington since I have been governor.

REAL ID would surreptitiously require all 50 states to change their driver’s licenses to act as de-facto national ID cards. It’s outrageous, and not just because it was a backdoor way of doing something proponents in Washington have never been able to pull off in the past. I say “outrageous” because REAL ID was never really debated in Congress; because the cost of its implementation is handed down to states and individuals; and because it is an affront to Americans’ privacy concerns.

Let’s look more closely at a few of those concerns:

(1) Steroid use in baseball has now received more congressional attention than has REAL ID. But national policy changes should be debated, not dictated. This was not the case with REAL ID. It never saw committee debate in the House or Senate, and passed as nothing more than a rider, an attachment, to a bill devoted to tsunami relief and military personnel fighting in the Middle East.

(2) The cost of REAL ID, and the national ID card system that would come with it, would not be borne by the federal government but handed to the states and individuals. So-called unfunded mandates like these keep the spending trains going in Washington. I find it amazing now that Washington has stacked up $50 trillion in debts, which amount to $450,000 per household, that their idea of keeping those promises rests on handing the bill to others.

Nobody seems to know how many billions REAL ID will cost taxpayers at the state level. Implausibly, the Department of Homeland Security has now revised its cost estimate downward from $23 billion to $9.9 billion. But whatever the number it seems to me that if Washington wants something done, it ought to find a way to pay for it — and make sure that it can pay for it.

(3) This proposal is one more step away from the Founding Fathers’ vision of a limited federal government. Our greatest homeland security is liberty, and the Founding Fathers believed our greatest threat to liberty was a central government grown too powerful. Accordingly, they set up checks on federal power by vesting authority at the individual and state levels.

REAL ID disrupts this delicate balance of power in two ways. First, it turns the Founders’ logic on its head by forcing states to act as agents for the federal government in creating a national ID card for federal purposes. Needing a REAL ID to board a plane or enter a federal building would also change the balance of power in something as seemingly insignificant as a visit to a member of Congress.

As a former member of Congress, I had countless meetings with constituents whose personal details I knew nothing about. Their background was not the issue; my stand on a given matter was. The First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to assemble and petition their government, with no qualification that says, “Only if you have a REAL ID card.” On this, I think it would be best to let the Founding Fathers’ original work stand.

(4) REAL ID will move DMV lines in our state up from 15 minutes to up to two hours, and those productive hours will not be regained in this lifetime. I suspect a similar phenomenon in DMVs across the nation.

(5) REAL ID falsely assumes our personal information will be safer in one spot in Washington rather than housed independently across 50 separate states. In the last couple of years, Washington has exposed the personal information of as many as 40 million Americans — not to mention the three presidential candidates — to potential theft.

To err really is human, but if you accept the reality that mistakes do happen and that bad people do hack into spots they aren’t supposed to access — does it really make sense to put all this information into a central database?

(6) Finally, a host of loopholes would in many ways render this bill an inconvenience and cost to Americans — not the bad guys it is intended for. These range from REAL ID having no impact in travelers with a foreign passports to the recent affirmation by the federal government that no form of ID is needed to board a plane.

In short, there are many faults in this bill that could be sorted were there debate in Washington on REAL ID. I hope you’ll join me in making your voice heard for truly debating this issue, and for pushing for change that would come with that debate.

Mark Sanford, a Republican, is governor of South Carolina.

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