As of this writing, only a handful of states have formally resisted implementation of the draconian REAL-ID act, where the Feds create a de facto national ID card by hijacking the driver licensing agencies of all 50 states. Despite the chilling "papers, please!" overtones to this, some states are falling into line like so many obedient sheep, while the majority have resorted to sending the Department of Homeland Security a letter of intent to comply, which extends them another year or so of lead time before the mandate finally kicks in. Of course that path only legitimizes the law, as opposed to standing up to the Feds and declaring the law the unconstitutional usurpation that it is.
DHS head Michael "Skeletor" Chertoff has made it clear that starting next year the residents of Montana, Maine, et al. will find it impossible to board an aircraft or enter a Federal building unless their state legislatures and governors cave in to his demands.
There is a third way, however. It’s simple, doable, and one that is guaranteed to stop REAL-ID in its tracks. Every state can do it. Its only drawback is that state governments will have to give up certain entrenched powers that they have arrogated to themselves for decades.
To stop REAL-ID, the states only have to get completely out of the drivers license business — by June of 2009.
Libertarians have long lobbied for an end to state-mandated driver licensing. Here is a new opportunity to put that idea back on the table. After all, which is more important, rigid control over driver licensing, or the imposition of a biometric police-state national identity card? State legislatures, even those who are already on record opposing REAL-ID, could simply slip out from under the law’s requirements by closing their licensing agencies for good, and either farming out certain functions to private-sector contractors, or eliminating them entirely.
States could take the lead in redefining what it means to have an "ID" in their state, as well as finding better solutions to controlling "problem" drivers (the primary reason mandatory licensing was started to begin with). Who knows what sorts of creative solutions may manifest when private citizens and entrepreneurs get in on the act?
Meantime, any US citizen can certainly apply for a passport if they wish, and use that to board aircraft or enter government buildings. Of course, the passport agency has been so overburdened with new applications since Jan 1st, with the Federal government’s insistence that passports are now required to enter Canada and Mexico, it’s hard to say how much farther they will fall behind in processing a new and even larger flood of applications in the wake of such state actions. So it may be that they will have no choice but to allow people with more "creative" state IDs to fly until that long backlog can be handled — which could take years.
But any temporary inconvenience would be worth it to see the look on old "Skeletor’s" face if every state told him: "Sorry Mike, but we no longer license drivers in our state, hence it is impossible for us to comply with the provisions of the REAL-ID Act."
Even the majority of states who may loathe the Act but don’t have the guts to confront the Feds directly could, in this passive-aggressive manner, express their independence and gut-level unwillingness to take part in the Bush administration’s schemes to track us all, cradle to grave.
States may not like giving up that kind of power, but there’s a long-term plus in that they will save a lot of taxpayer money, money that can either be used elsewhere, or simply given back.
Thomas Andrew Olson [send him mail] is a technology consultant, writer, and speaker in New York City.