The frenzy for security after the Sept. 11 terror attacks led to legislation and government actions that reduced Americans’ civil liberties, especially the right to privacy. Fortunately, some of the overreaction and overreach supported by the Patriot Act and demonstrated by the National Security Agency has been reduced as the nation has sought a more appropriate balance between security and freedom.
But now that balance is being tilted again in the name of security as states change their driver’s license systems to comply with the federal Real ID Act. The law passed in 2005 with little notice as part of an Iraq War/tsunami relief supplemental bill. More than a decade later, half the states are still out of compliance either because of civil liberty objections or because of the cost and bureaucratic challenges of creating licenses that critics say will amount to a national identity card.
North Carolina’s General Assembly should resist this requirement and join the movement to repeal this troubling and burdensome intrusion on individual privacy and states’ autonomy. South Carolina lawmakers have already refused to comply because the state doesn’t want to adopt a shorter renewal period as required by the law.
North Carolina, however, is going along with this Orwellian boondoggle. North Carolina’s Division of Motor Vehicles is in the process of converting the state driver’s license system and expects the new system to be in place by the end of 2017. DMV will ask the state’s 9 million licensed drivers to submit additional identity documentation such as their birth certificates or Social Security cards. The information will be stored in a data base linked to licensing agencies in all 50 states.
Drivers who comply will receive a license marked with a gold star. Drivers who decline to provide the additional information will receive a license labeled “Not for federal identification.” Those licenses will not be acceptable ID for boarding an aircraft or entering a federal facility.
Applying for a driver’s license in North Carolina already requires new drivers to provide proof of their identity, address, Social Security number and legal status in the United States. But DMV does not keep copies of those documents on file. That will change under the Real ID Act. And that will mean trading a great deal of privacy for a system that provides little help in preventing acts of terrorism. Such acts, after all, are not confined to planes and federal facilities.
While it may not do much about terrorism, the new licensing system could harm individuals whose private information is collected on a national database overseen by the well-known inefficiencies and management lapses found in a typical DMV. Identity thieves could feast on this vast, national collection of Social Security numbers and birth data.
The new licensing system creates far more threats than it will prevent. The state’s lawmakers should oppose it. And if they lack the the will to object, North Carolina’s drivers should opt out and use a passport to fly and enter federal facilities.