Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Real Deal On The Real ID Act

The following is a dramatic monologue set as a Q&A between John Q. Public and the Risk Manager on the Real ID Act:

Q: What is this about the Real ID?
A: The REAL ID Act of 2005 set federal standards for state-issued driver licenses and non-driver identification cards to board a federally regulated airplane, access a federal facility or nuclear power plant.

Q: OK, I can understand that but why is this an issue?
A: The federal minimum standards for state-issued driver's licenses or personal identification cards requires states to substantially modify their operations for issuing driver licenses and non-diver identification cards, thereby increasing costs.

Q: The cost of printing and issuing new driver's licenses or personal identification cards seems to be peanuts, so what’s the problem?
A: While the cost of the physical card may be about $1 to $2 per card[i], there is the cost of upgrading the existing computer systems and operations as well as re-training the employees. A September 2006 report presented jointly by the National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, and American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators estimated that the cost to the states to meet the Real ID requirements was $11 billion[ii].

Q: OK, $11 billion is a large figure but can’t the states suck it up and take the hits?
A: According to the study, there are an estimated 245 driver's licenses or personal identification cards, nationwide. This comes to $45 per license or ID card. Some states have issued more licenses and ID cards. The cost to the states is not proportional.

Q: Well, how about passing the cost to the license and ID holders? I would.
A: In addition to the cost to the states, there are costs to the license and ID holders. All license and ID holders will need to bring additional proofs of identification and go through the whole ID verification process. Since the verification process will be more involved, you may have to wait on an extra long line, and may have to take a day off to do it.

Q: Boy, I can’t afford to take a day off from work. My pay is just barely making ends meet as is. Isn’t there a way to do this by mail or through the Internet?
A: No can do. The Real ID Act is specific on the need for the states to physically re-verify your address, identification, re-take your picture, and obtain new signatures.

Q: This sounds like it is going to cost a lot and cause major SNAFU. Why is it necessary?
A: Ah, now you are asking the RIGHT QUESTION. The real deal with the Real ID is motivated by the need to improve our overall homeland security, especially the ports of entry to the U.S., transportation, and government facilities.

Q: I don’t get it. How is my getting a new driver’s license card and my daughter getting a non-driver personal identification card going to help homeland security?
A: Here are the official lines from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) FAQ pages[iii]:

“State-issued driver’s licenses serve many purposes in today’s society, including being the primary identifier for individuals attempting to access a Federal facility, board Federally-regulated commercial aircraft and enter nuclear power plants. Terrorists know this, and actively seek this form of identification. For example, eighteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers used driver’s licenses or similar identification to board planes which they used to kill thousands of innocent civilians. Many of these credentials were obtained through fraudulent means.

Additionally, these documents provided the terrorists with cover to operate freely within the United States by allowing them to open bank accounts to draw down funding, rent places to live, rent cars and board planes. Having secure identification is an important step toward enhancing national security.

REAL ID will help cut down on identity theft. The program accomplishes this by establishing layers of security to ensure that identity documents only go to the people they actually belong to. This is achieved through increased security, including: physical security features on the credential itself; tightening DMV practices and procedures for the production and issuance of the documents (security plans and background checks for employees, for example); and verifying the information presented on source documents presented at the time of application through enhanced verification systems. REAL ID also mandates that a State cannot issue a REAL ID license to a person who holds a license issued by another State or to an individual who already holds a REAL ID card. REAL ID will make it more difficult to steal other people’s identities and use them to obtain driver’s licenses.”

Q: How is that going to stop a terrorist? I mean, wasn’t some of the terrorist homegrown? Look at the Oklahoma City bombing, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in Waco, TX. Theodore Kaczynski a.k.a. The Unabomber, ; It was done by Americans[iv].
A: True, however, the real intent of the Real ID is to prevent illegally entered individuals from obtaining U.S. driver licenses and identification cards.

Q: Getting past all of this politics, what’s going to stop those individuals who present fake IDs at the time of getting their license. Like the Social Security Administration issuing approximately 8% of 100,000 social security cards in 2000 to people who presented illegally obtained documents or invalid immigration papers[v].
A: This is a concern not addressed by the Real ID Act. There are individuals who deal in fake social security cards, and fake birth certificates etc. If an individual can obtain a valid social security card by using fake documents, then the Real ID process is compromised.

Q: Alrighty, I am getting a bit smarter on this issue. So, let me get right down to it. Tell me if ‘m wrong. The reason DHS wants a Real ID qualified identification card is to prevent foreign terrorist who come into our country illegally with the intent of obtaining a valid driver’s license or identification card so they can board a plane or enter a Federal facility for nefarious reasons?
A: Yes

Q: So, tell me what is going to prevent these foreign terrorists from using their legal passports, once they are in the U.S.? How about these foreign terrorists obtaining legal passports from countries that have very lax security features and using these passports to board planes and enter Federal facilities?
A: Nothing.

Q: I thought as much. This is a multi-billion dollar boondoggle of trying to secure a bathroom window while the front door is wide open.
A: OK, I don’t know that that means. But in risk terms, the cost of requiring the implementation of Real ID Act will cost the states more than $11 billion and more than $9.8 billion in lost income by the 245 million driver license and ID holders (calculated at $8 per hour based on an estimated 5 hour long process).

Therefore, in risk terms, the upfront cost will be approximately $21 billion and large loopholes existing in other areas will largely compromise the intent, rendering the risk management value to be $0.

Or in layman’s terms, shell out $21 billion and get squat, nada, or a big donut hole.

No actors or animals were harmed in this dramatic dialogue. Any similarity to real or imaged persons is purely coincidental and should not viewed in any other way. If you should feel that the use of the name John Q. Public, in any way, caused you offense, then “Hey, get a life!”

Ed Kim

DISCLOSURE: The author is Long on Common Sense, which appears to be in short supply in Washington D.C.
[i] http://www.tristate.edu/faculty/barge/cs103/Smart%20Cards.htm

http://www.aamva.org/aamva/DocumentDisplay.aspx?id=%7B055B37F6-E619-4ACE-AAEC-10CC9F79CB1A}, pg 3.




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