Real ID: A Real Warning on the Danger of Government
By James Bovard
The REAL ID Act may be on the verge of receiving its final coffin nails. Unfortunately, the Obama administration is pushing a replacement bill that poses many of the same threats as REAL ID. The history of REAL ID should inspire friends of freedom to once again vigorously oppose any and every federal grab for their personal information.
The feds had sought legislation to create national ID cards in the 1990s but were rebuffed by a Republican Congress. But, after 9/11, "everything changed" -- at least in Washington. Regardless of the reasons why the CIA and FBI failed to stop the hijackers, the solution was far more snooping and the potential creation of hundreds of millions of dossiers on American citizens. Almost overnight, it became widely accepted that the government must have unlimited powers to search anywhere and everywhere for enemies of freedom. The worse the government's failure to protect Americans, the further it permitted itself to intrude.
There was scant opposition when the House of Representatives initially considered REAL ID in early 2005. The Senate unanimously approved the bill, attached as a rider to an appropriations bill for military spending. Rep. Ron Paul was practically the lone Republican sounding the alarm. At the time the bill passed, he warned, "This REAL ID Act establishes a massive, centrally-coordinated database of highly personal information about American citizens: at a minimum their name, date of birth, place of residence, Social Security number, and physical characteristics."
REAL ID provided a blank check for the feds to demand more information at any time in the future. The new law granted "open-ended authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security to require biometric information on IDs in the future. This means your harmless looking driver's license could contain a retina scan, fingerprints, DNA information, or radio frequency technology," as congressman Paul warned.
Back in 2005, it was not fashionable in Washington to be afraid of federal surveillance. Luckily, in the subsequent years, civil liberties activists have raised Cain around the nation. More than half of all the state legislatures have passed resolutions or laws restricting REAL ID’s bite in their state. But in order to understand what the feds may try next, it is important to consider how REAL ID was sold, how it was expanded, and why it remains a threat.
At the time REAL ID was being promoted, advocates of federal surveillance claimed that national identification cards were necessary to make Americans safe. In reality, national ID cards would do far more to control than to protect Americans. Savvy foreign terrorists could find ways to evade the requirements for such cards -- the same way that they easily evaded ludicrous airport security systems on September 11, 2001.
REAL ID was intended to greatly increase federal levers over the movement and lives of Americans. In 2008, Homeland Security czar Michael Chertoff announced that Americans who lived in states who had not revised their drivers licenses to meet REAL ID mandates could be banned from boarding an airplane within the United States. Since the Transportation Security Administration was part of Chertoff's fiefdom, he could snap his fingers and the TSA would block anyone who did not present the proper papers from catching a flight. (Chertoff's attempt to bludgeon state legislatures into submission backfired).
If the feds had been upfront about claiming a prerogative to arbitrarily ban any American from air travel at the time the bill was initially considered, far more people would have protested before REAL ID became law. But this is typical of the "camel's nose in the tent" style of surveillance.
REAL ID was also used to railroad through a vast expansion of the definition of terrorism. As Rep. Paul noted, the law "re-defines 'terrorism' in broad new terms that could well include members of firearms rights and anti-abortion groups, or other such groups as determined by whoever is in power at the time. There are no prohibitions against including such information in the database as information about a person's exercise of First Amendment rights or about a person's appearance on a registry of firearms owners."
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) complained that REAL ID "defined the term 'terrorist activity' so broadly that it basically covers anyone who has ever used a firearm." REAL ID's expansion of the definition of terrorist activity is especially perilous considering the hostility that some congressmen have towards gun owners.
And the danger is compounded because some Homeland Security Department officials have already labeled individuals who invoke the Constitution or support candidates like Ron Paul as radicals and extremists. This past April, a Homeland Security report entitled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Environment Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment" defined as "right wing extremism" groups and individuals who are "mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely." Thus, anyone who firmly believes in the Tenth Amendment could be classified as a threat to public safety. Once the groundwork is laid, the feds could exploit REAL ID to block people to travel to political protests. (The federal No Fly list was exploited in a similar fashion in 2002 to block Wisconsin nuns from traveling to an antiwar protest in Washington).
Now, Obama's Homeland Security chief, Janet Napolitano, is urging Congress to enact what is portrayed as "REAL ID-Lite" -- the PASS Act (Providing for Additional Security in States' Identification Act of 2009).
But this bill contains many of the same risks as the REAL ID. And Napolitano is promoting requiring state drivers’ licenses to contain RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips with unique numbers for each individual. Katherine Albrecht, author of the bestseller Spychips, warns that this scheme could make it easy for the government to identify anyone who attends a gun show or an antiwar rally. Albrecht asks: "What happens to all those people when a government operator carrying a reading device makes a circuit of the event? They could download all those unique ID numbers and link them." And it would be a small step from this to putting all the names on watch lists.
But PASS ID sounds more innocuous than REAL ID. However, from another perspective, it sounds reminiscent of high school - when students had to get a hall pass from their teacher before being permitted to step out of the classroom.
Many REAL ID advocates insisted that there was no risk of the government using the new law as a launching pad to go further into people’s lives. But the experience with other federal surveillance efforts proves that things can get far more worse than even paranoids suspect. In the 1980s, when cell phones became popular, many people saw them as a way for people to enjoy a new freedom and mobility. But, in 1999, the Federal Communications Commission bowed to FBI demands and required that all new cellular telephones be de facto homing devices. Cell phones must now include components that allow law enforcement to determine the precise location of any caller using the device. As Electronic Design magazine noted, "Unlike the location feature being created for 911 emergency services, this capability will apply to all calls and users won't be able to turn it off."
There was no reason to pass Real ID, and there is no reason to enact a replacement after state legislatures shot REAL ID to pieces. Nothing has happened since 2005 to make the government more trustworthy or to make liberty less valuable. It is vital that we never permit our rulers to treat all Americans like criminal suspects all the time. The government's incompetence at protecting Americans must not be converted into a political entitlement to destroy all privacy.
"In a Democracy there is no right not to be offended. Anyone ought to be free to say whatever they like. If someone says things that are offensive, gratuitous and stupid, one has to assume there will be others able to demonstrate that what someone said was offensive, gratuitous and stupid."
"The holocaust is an ideological club, used to hold Germany in a vice like grip. In the early nineties these organisations discovered an opportunity to shake down European Governments and now they have run amok. They are pursuing blackmail and therefore they should be indicted and tried as criminals before the courts."
"If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all. "
Below are links to various petitions we support. If you see one that interests you then please take action.
Make Congress Read Their Bills Before Voting
Make Congress read every word of every bill they create before they vote on it. Urge your Representative and your Senators to sponsor DownsizeDC.org's “Read the Bills Act” (RTBA).
TWIC - A Backdoor Real ID Card
Real ID is dying. But the Department of Homeland Security has a new plan to subject every American to a national ID card anyway. They plan to pick off one occupational field at a time, starting with the maritime industry. One man is fighting back. Meet him, and help stop this backdoor Real ID plan.
Make Congress pass DownsizeDC.org's “One Subject at a Time Act”
Most Americans probably believe a bill has to have majority support in Congress before it can become the law of the land. Sadly, this common sense expectation is totally wrong. Congressional leaders routinely pass laws that a majority opposes. DownsizeDC.org believes every bill should have to stand or fall on its own merits. Toward this end we have crafted the “One Subject at a Time Act” (OSTA).
End Bureaucratic "Legislation without Representation" with the "Write the Laws Act"
Unelected bureaucrats create tens-of-thousands of new dictates each year. Making rules is the job of Congress, not bureaucrats. DownsizeDC.org has drafted the “Write the Laws Act” to end bureaucratic “legislation without representation."
Bring John Shadegg's 'Enumerated Powers Act' to a Vote
t's time for Congress to, "Cite it, chapter and verse." Where do they derive their authority? When they pass new laws or spend taxpayer money, they should be required to point to specific language in the Constitution. The Enumerated Powers Act would require them to do precisely that. Help us bring this bill to a vote.
Top 11 Reasons You Should Fight Hate Laws
Unless we resist now, a thought crimes bureaucracy like those regulating Australia, Canada and Europe will soon rule America. In these nations, federal hate laws have destroyed citizens' rights to free speech. Punishment of politically incorrect bias is the ultimate goal of this legislation.
A national hate law would shatter Americans' First Amendment rights, which are now sadly unique among Western democracies. We would lose our precious freedom to express politically incorrect ideas, moral judgments, or whatever personal convictions the reigning thought police deem "hateful."
Think this can't happen in America? Think again.
Hostile work environment law and campus speech bans already severely curtail free expression in American workplaces and universities. A US federal hate law would follow the examples of Europe, Canada, and Australia where Christian pastors have been indicted simply for quoting politically incorrect Scripture in their sermons. Iceland's Orwellian hate law, for example, promises two years' jail if you verbally "insult" a person on the basis of their nationality, skin color, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
If a federal hate law were passed, free expression across the political spectrum would be threatened. What would happen to blasphemous art like Piss Christ or South Park, to Ann Coulter or Al Franken, to Christians protesting sodomy or homosexuals attacking the Bible? Every American, from left-leaning feminists to red state Republicans, should protest "anti-hate" legislation. If Rosie O'Donnell were an Icelander, she could have been prosecuted for verbal "assault" for her recent statement that radical Christianity is as dangerous as radical Islam. Political activists in nations with hate laws have already been indicted for criticizing Islam, Zionism, and homosexuality. Hate laws threaten your freedom to speak your mind, no matter what's on it.
Here are some of the most powerful, bipartisan reasons to fight this legislation.
1. Speech bans are a political weapon used by those in power to silence their opponents and politically unpopular minorities.
Hate laws empower the government to enforce the orthodoxy of whoever happens to be in charge. The government can define which biases or "hatreds" are unacceptable and which are okay. For instance, hate laws in our PC age allow women to derogate men but would silence men from legitimate (though possibly hurtful) speech like a discussion of biological gender differences.
In 2004 Swedish feminist Joanna Rytel wrote a hate-filled screed published in a major daily. Her article describes white men as arrogant, sex-obsessed and exploitative, explaining that Rytel just wants to "puke" on them. Stockholm authorities refused to indict Rytel under their hate law, saying it was passed to protect ethnic minorities, not white Swedes. This is one example of speech bans' uneven enforcement; they are used to punish certain kinds of hate and allow others.
Because almost every exercise of free speech offends someone, government officials would end up enforcing speech bans on the basis of their own bias. Speech bans simply can't be evenhanded unless everyone is shut up altogether.
In the real world, speech can and does wound. That's a cost of life. We naturally resent painful realities like economic competition, unfair comments, and hard work. But in each case, the cures we've tried were far worse than the sickness. Speech bans might censor some hurtful speech but would empower government to silence minorities and strip the intellectual marketplace of legitimate and needed expression-the kind that creates positive, social change precisely because it is minority and challenges the sins of the group.
2. Hate speech bans don't work.
Genuine racism and false hatreds exist in this world. Bans on hate speech, however, won't solve the problem. If you only break off a tick's body, its head will burrow deep beneath the skin. The only effective response to bad ideas is the truth. We should combat falsehoods with more and freer discussion, not less.
3. Hate laws aren't necessary.
ADL claims an epidemic of hate sweeps America that can only be fought with stiffened penalties for bias-driven crimes. Yet the FBI's 2005 Uniform Crime Report shows alleged hate crimes form a tiny 1/15 of 1 percent of all crime in America. Law enforcers' time would be far better spent fighting the 99.85 percent of crime that's happening every minute across our nation rather than getting entangled in discerning and testifying against the perceived motivations of a tiny minority of criminals.
Hate laws would require vast government bureaucracies, complicate law enforcement, and distract police and prosecutors from dealing with actual physical crimes. Government and law enforcement should focus on criminal acts, not words or motivations, in a nation where someone is murdered every 22 minutes, raped every 5, robbed every 49 seconds and burgled every 10 seconds. Discerning and prosecuting criminal motivations would only be a good plan if law enforcers had God's omniscience and time to waste. Ours have neither.
4. Hate speech bans are unconstitutional.
Because the First Amendment underwrites our most precious civil liberty, the US Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled against speech bans. In 1972 the Court declared, "[A]bove all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its contents." (Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92)
Some forms of speech are restricted; these include threats and "fighting words" that incite "an immediate breach of peace." But these restrictions are (and must remain) extremely narrow and content-neutral-the government is not allowed to censor speech based on the viewpoint it expresses but only on whether it constitutes an immediate threat. Hate laws, however, would punish the viewpoints expressed in speech, in violation of the Constitution.
International use of ADL-designed hate laws shows that the first kinds of speech to be sanctioned are extreme right, white nationalist speech and Holocaust reductionism. The average person is slow to defend such speech. But hate laws quickly broaden to punish forms of expression the average citizen would never dream of stifling. Sweden's 2002 modified hate law, for example, explicitly exposes Christian sermons to prosecution!
All forms of controversial political and religious speech are potentially vulnerable to prosecution under hate laws. This contradicts Supreme Court Justice Holmes Jr. who said in 1929, "[I]f there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment [loyal defense] than any other, it is the principle of free thought-not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate."
5. Speech bans will be used against the very minorities they were meant to protect.
Speech bans silence some to protect the feelings of others. But when the government has power to silence expression that power can be wielded against the very people who once enjoyed its protection. Liberals, the champions of unrestrained speech in the 1960s, now vote as a bloc in Congress to support speech restrictions. Yet already in countries such as Canada, England and Australia, leftist critics of Islam have become the victims of hate laws, indicted for religious "hate speech."
Leftist artists Rowan Atkinson and Salman Rushdie realize hate laws don't just threaten white nationalists like David Duke but liberals as well- they recently fought for revision of Britain's hate law because it could be used to outlaw art that blasphemes or criticizes religion. Atkinson and Rushdie are just a few of hate laws' leftist critics who know that persons of all political persuasions have a stake in defeating this legislation.
6. Speech bans chill legitimate and valuable speech.
Under the threat of possible indictment, many people will refrain from discussing controversial but important ideas. Speech bans are often broad and vague, leaving citizens unsure what might get them hauled into court.
This is what has happened in American workplaces, where hostile work environment law has left many employees unsure what they can say. Many Americans avoid all controversial speech and voluntarily refrain from exercising First Amendment rights at work. Hate laws would extend this dangerous minefield to the national political scene.
Legal philosopher Edmond Cahn points out that speech bans would leave our bookshelves empty. "[T]he officials could begin by prosecuting anyone who distributes the Christian gospels, because they contain many defamatory statements not only about Jews but also about ChristiansThen the officials could ban Greek literature for calling the rest of the world "barbarians." Roman authors could be suppressed because when they were not defaming the Gallic and Teutonic tribes, they were disparaging the ItaliansThen there is Shakespeare, who openly affronts the French, the Welsh, the Danes" (Beyond the Burning Cross, E. Cleary, Random House, 1994)
7. Speech bans greatly reduce the possibility of healthy, democratic change.
Criminalizing speech that expresses "hate" or "bias" would require us to outlaw history's most valuable speech, especially the political and religious speech that threatens social stasis and ignites progress.
Aggressive speech is often the only tool available to political, social, or religious minorities whose access to government lobbying and mass media is limited. Those agitating for social change often need to use inflammatory and even "hateful" language to startle the public into hearing their message. Socrates compared himself to a horsefly biting the lazy flanks of his republic. We should certainly know enough by now to prefer the annoyance of stinging speech (even when we don't see its value) to a tyrannical majority that plods, unchallenged, toward slavery.
Americans are so used to our mudslinging, no-holds-barred political discourse that we find it hard to envision the way freedom of speech could disappear. But the freedom we enjoy is extremely rare in history, and quickly lost. Free expression for intellectuals is the first thing to go when tyrants rise to power; the history of oppressive regimes makes it clear that freedom of political speech is a delicate exception and the overarching tendency is for majorities or elites to get power and silence all opposition.
8. The government's interest in reducing violent crime does not outweigh our interest in preserving civil liberty.
Hate law advocates including the ADL argue that hateful speech incites violence, and appeal to the government's interest in reducing violent crime. But it would be unfair to ban, for instance, white racist speech or Christian sermons against homosexuality without also banning the plethora of other speech that might incite crime. Gangsta rap and videogames would be open to censure; we would also have to ban pornography, especially sadomasochistic porn, which certainly inspires violence against women.
Yet bans against these kinds of speech have been repeatedly declared unconstitutional. The government has an interest in lowering violent crime of all stripes but has always found the value of the First Amendment to be greater. It's unjust to argue that a few kinds of speech must be banned because they possibly incite violence (e.g., criticism of Jewish actions or homosexuality) yet permit huge categories of speech (violent sexual entertainment) that do the same. This would happen, however, under hate laws' unequal and partial enforcement. The ADL is not truly driven by the desire to reduce violent crime but rather to enforce a social and political orthodoxy.
Instead of passing a hate law that would shatter the First Amendment and impossibly complicate law enforcement, people concerned with hate-driven crimes should focus on improving our existing justice system and making sure hard crimes don't go unpunished.
9. Speech bans are offensively paternalistic.
They presume we can't think for ourselves, reject racist or hateful ideas for ourselves, or deal with the hurt caused by others' free expression. Are we such children that we need the government to cover our ears? Speech bans especially condescend toward the minorities they portray as helpless victims whose feelings must be sheltered from ideas they can't combat in a free intellectual market.
10. Speech bans permit government to do something an individual could not morally do.
Frederic Bastiat's classic treatise on The Law says government exists only to prevent injustice by defending our basic rights to person, liberty, and property. Government does not exist to guarantee our economic outcomes, redistribute our wealth, or protect our psyches. Speech bans would empower government to silence individuals by force. This is immoral whether it's one person silencing another person or the government silencing a fringe group of dissenters. Human fallibility requires at least enough humility to allow others to question, challenge, and dissent from our ideas. John Stuart Mill explains, "If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
11. Speech bans deny self-determination and individual freedom by criminalizing self-expression.
By censoring speech, hate laws censor thought and restrict our access to ideas. This is the essence of mind control. They deny the personal growth that comes from sharing ideas-including hateful, prejudiced, or false ideas-and having them challenged in a free intellectual marketplace.
Hate law speech bans have been repeatedly declared unconstitutional and would rend the very foundation of our freedom and democracy. Far from combating hate, The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is actually the most hateful and enslaving legislation to ever reach Congress; it would invade states' rights in law enforcement, enabling a hate crimes bureaucracy to police our thoughts and expression. Government could censor by force all speech that dissents from the reigning orthodoxy. Every American must speak up now in defense of the freedom for which our forefathers gave their very lives.
Freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental rights that individuals enjoy. It is fundamental to the existence of democracy and the respect of human dignity. It is also one of the most dangerous rights, because freedom of expression means the freedom to express one's discontent with the status quo and the desire to change it. As such, it is one of the most threatened rights, with governments - and even human rights groups - all over the world constantly trying to curtail it.
Make your voice heard today or it will be silenced tomorrow.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free."
"The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government. . . lest it come to dominate our lives and interests."
"Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle! Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."
Edward R. Murrow
"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it."
"“To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”
"You measure democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists."
Martin Luther King Jr.
"An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law. "