Real IDiocy

A national identity card issued by the state Department of Licensing? Yes, it's the law—and a dumb, expensive one.

Real IDiocy

The people of Washington should get ready for a new federal program as well run as FEMA and only slightly less intrusive than surveillance by the NSA (or Tom Cruise with an ultrasound device).

Real ID is coming, and it’s outrageous, onerous, and will cost taxpayers a fortune. If you think $30 car license tabs are going to save you money, the state is going to have to take some of your “savings” back when you go to renew your driver’s license. What privilege are you paying for? You’ll be paying the costs to comply with a new federal mandate that will allow the government to track all U.S. citizens of driving age by issuing new driver’s licenses that meet standards of the Department of Homeland Security.

Your driver’s license, in effect, will become a fully trackable domestic passport. Think of it as a federal-issue ankle bracelet, courtesy of your local department of motor vehicles.

Interestingly, this state wants none of it. Nor do many of the other 49 states. The cost, workloads, coordination, and reorganization necessary to implement the Real ID program will add a tremendous burden to state governments already pressed by escalating costs, strained revenue streams, and less federal assistance.

Putting civil liberties aside for a minute (and why not? Dick Cheney always does), how bad can it be? Congressional supporters of Real ID have estimated the cost of implementation at about $100 million nationally. Yeah, and the Iraq war was supposed to cost a few billion in pocket change. (Cost estimate last week by a Nobel economist: $2 trillion.) Same with Real ID. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates it will cost the states $13 billion.

Here, Washington’s Department of Licensing estimates the costs for converting to the federally mandated identification system at $285,480,506 over the next three biennia. Some of that will be recoverable from the public through higher fees. No federal funds have been earmarked to pay for the program.

The Real ID Act was passed by Congress and signed into law last May by George W. Bush. In the wake of 9/11, the push for a new national identity card had gained some momentum, along with anti-immigration sentiment in Congress. Real ID addressed several issues. It contained provisions that would make it easier to build a wall between Mexico and the United States, and it would make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to gain amnesty by claiming persecution abroad. But the major provision was the requirement that all state driver’s licenses meet new federal standards, at least for anyone needing identification for federal benefits, airplane rides, or access to federal offices.

It doesn’t sound so bad on its face, but implementation is complicated. It would require that every one of the millions of drivers in the country go to a licensing center in person with up to five pieces of acceptable identification—passport, birth certificate, Social Security number, utility bills—to prove citizenship and state residency. The state would then verify and copy each of these documents and keep them on file, on paper and in a searchable database that can be checked against immigration, Homeland Security, and Department of Defense databases. Your ID card might even have an embedded computer chip and a photo of you that could be scanned by image recognition software.

Even if the idea of a national identity card doesn’t give you the creeps, is this the best way to do it? Licensing motor vehicle operators is an entirely different task from securing the homeland. In Washington and some other states, for example, you don’t have to be a citizen to drive; we have no databases for keeping the extensive records the feds require; drivers can opt out of having their photograph on their driver’s license for religious reasons; and licenses can be renewed online, and not in person. Every state does things differently with computer technology, software, licensing standards, and formats. In short, licensing programs are set up to certify that folks are qualified to drive cars, trucks, tractors, and motorcycles. They are not set up to run a high-security national ID program.

Take document verification. If the new driver’s license is to be proof of citizenship and residency and connected to you by a Social Security number—something that is difficult to fake or forge—the state must ensure that every citizen’s documentation is correct. The state estimates that ramping up to convert everyone to the Real ID system will require the hiring of between 300 and 400 full-time employees.

As more people become aware of Real ID, resistance is picking up across the political spectrum, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Conservative Union, the National Taxpayers Union, and others.

In Washington, state Rep. Toby Nixon, R-Kirkland, has introduced a joint memorial bill in the state House of Representatives asking Congress to repeal Real ID. In an e-mail to Mossback, Nixon writes: “The purpose of the driver’s license is to ensure highway safety, not to act as a national ID card. The federal government should not dictate how Washington must issue driver’s licenses to our own state citizens. If the federal government wants a federal ID for federal purposes, it should set up the infrastructure to do it themselves.” Nixon says if Congress doesn’t repeal Real ID, he’ll advocate that Washington opt out.

Big Brother is bad enough. Do you really want him working for the DMV?

Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing

More in News & Comment

Dr. Faisal Khan. Courtesy of King County.
Dr. Faisal Khan appointed as next King County health director

Dennis Worsham will continue to serve as interim director until September 6.

Renton spa manager accused of trying to coerce woman into prostitution, posing nude

Quyen T. Nguyen, 39, has been accused of attempted promotion of prostitution… Continue reading

King County experts discuss extreme heat mitigation plan

The plan includes improving infrastructure and communications to prevent future disasters.

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterburg (File Photo)
King County Prosecuting Attorney vows to protect reproductive freedom

Dan Satterberg joins over 80 prosecutors from around the country in their pledge.

King County approves emergency grant after U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

Washington is expecting an influx of people seeking abortions from out of state.

Fedor Osipov, 15, flips into Steel Lake in Federal Way during last year's heatwave on June 28, 2021. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
Heatwave expected to hit King County

Temperatures will likely reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, June 26, and Monday, June 27.

Judged by XII: A King County Local Dive podcast. The hands shown here belong to Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, who has been charged with homicide in the 2019 death of Jesse Sarey.
JUDGED BY XII: Examining Auburn police officer’s grim tattoos

Episode 5 in special podcast series that explores Jeffrey Nelson’s role in the death of Jesse Sarey.

Des Moines Police arrest murder suspect in Kent | Update

Medical examiner identifies body found June 20 in Duwamish River

Photo courtesy of King County.
Officials urge caution when swimming this summer

Cold spring temperatures and larger than normal snowpack have created dangerous conditions

Most Read