Real ID Act will redefine relationship between citizens and the government

While Republicans and Democrats fight each other over voter registrations and alleged election fraud, their raucous quarrel obscures the real voter ID policy unfolding in Colorado and the nation. When the federal Real ID Act takes effect this coming January, the nation will make a major step toward the adoption of a national identity card.

As the Colorado House said in a joint resolution when the act passed, the law “in effect creates a national identification card by requiring that uniform information be placed on every state driver’s license, requiring this information to be machine readable in a standard format, and requiring the use of this card for any federal purpose including air travel.”

Though not advertised as a national identification card, these biometric ID cards will come as close as the country ever has to a federally designated identification card. As described on, “If you live or work in the United States, you’ll need a federally approved ID card to travel on an airplane, open a bank account, collect Social Security payments, or take advantage of nearly any government service.”

The very thought of a national ID card will send shivers down the spines of a great many Americans. Mention a national ID card — which most other advanced nations have used for generations — and they immediately conjure up images of black-clad government thugs demanding, “Show me your papers.”

So prevalent is that image that Bill Keller titled a New York Times editorial about using a federal ID card to prove eligibility for employment, “Show Me Your Papers.”

“Welcome to an American paradox,” Keller wrote. “This country, unlike many other developed democracies, does not require a national identification card because the same electorate that is so afraid America is being overrun by illegal aliens also fears that we are one short step away from becoming a police state ... I’ve suggested before that, as part of any comprehensive reform of our senseless immigration laws, Americans should master their anxieties about a national identification card.”

Little evidence suggests ID cards are effective as an anti-immigration barrier, but this is of little importance to the ACLU’s Chris Calabrese. “Ultimately a national ID card’s failure as an immigration control measure is beside the point,” she writes. “Its potential success — in curtailing our liberties and controlling our movements — is why it must be rejected.”

Proposals for a national ID card have been rejected by both right and left, Calabrese says, “because at its heart it’s a permission slip. A requirement that each of us gain approval from the government before enjoying what should be our fundamental right to work, to travel and to participate in American life.”

Despite initial resistance to the Real ID Act, the majority of states, including Colorado, have now accepted it. Colorado is among those reporting progress toward meeting the federal implementation schedule.

Nevertheless, the long-term consequences of requiring a de facto national identity card have not been seriously debated in public. The original proposal failed to pass in the Legislature. It became law, without public debate, as an amendment attached to a must-pass military funding bill.

The national ID card is one of the few issues that unites Americans across all political lines. The Cato Institute as well as the ACLU have spoken against the act. So have many Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens and independents. Few, if any, embrace the idea of a national ID card.

The state House passed a joint resolution in 2007 that said the act “would provide little security benefit and still leave identifications open to insider fraud, counterfeit documentation and database failures.”

Although Colorado legislators have since changed their position to become one of the states on schedule to meet the federal standards, this important legislation was passed with little or no opportunity for public participation.

The relationship between individual Coloradans and their government deserves more serious consideration. The pubic has a right to know how the change will impact their private lives.

Perhaps the time has come for a national ID card, but the case has not been made to the people whose lives will be directly affected. The five months remaining before the Real ID Act takes effect allow time to revisit the issue and determine the best outcome for the voters of Colorado.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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