Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Are Passports Becoming National IDs?

As I was waiting in line at the CVS in Porter Square, I saw the following alarming sign:

It seemed to me that the pharmaceutical giant is trying to cash in on the Department of Homeland Security’s new passport requirements. Since January, “U.S. citizens and citizens of Canada, Mexico and Bermuda traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda [have been] required to present a valid passport to enter (or re-enter) the U.S.”

Not surprisingly, this new policy has resulted in a “flood of passport applications” and “long delays”. In response to this holdup, the government agreed to allow citizens who have completed passport applications, but have not received passports, to travel to certain countries until September 30. But do Americans need passports for trips within the United States? Nope—and according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the majority of flights are domestic, not international. Of course, this flight data refutes the notion that “most travel” requires a passport.

Nevertheless, these new requirements may be baby steps in the federal government’s move toward a national ID card. Under the Real ID Act, which is scheduled to take effect next year, states must adopt stringent new requirements for their state licenses and other IDs. The new IDs would be used to “track and control individuals’ movements and activities,” would result in costly administrative burdens for state motor vehicle departments, and would be ineffective against terrorism, among other problems.

If a state refused to change its identification laws to comply with the Act, the state’s IDs would not be accepted for domestic flights; its residents would need to obtain passports or remain on the ground. In other words, the Act is a backdoor way for the government to create a national database of all plane travelers. The ACLU has warned that the record system developed for these IDs:

will inevitably, over time, become the repository for more and more data on individuals, and will be drawn on for an ever-wider set of purposes. Its standardized machine-readable interface will drive its integration into an ever-growing network of identity checks and access control points – each of which will create new data trails that will in turn be linked to that central database or its private-sector shadow equivalent.

Seventeen states have already refused to adopt the Real ID Act’s provisions. Massachusetts should join them in their stand against this expensive and unwarranted law. Even better, the U.S. Congress should repeal the Act to avoid the dangers noted above and another flood of passport applications.

Big Brother isn’t watching every move you make—yet.

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