GovBytes: Real IDs: Good Governing or Something Out of a Sci-Fi Thriller?

If you’ve ever seen the movie “Minority Report,” you can probably relate to the queasiness I feel every time I watch the part where Tom Cruise’s character has a black-market operation to replace his eyes.

Yup, you read that right. He pays a guy to swap his eyeballs out with someone else’s.

Why? Because in the futuristic world in which the movie is set, people are tracked with eye-scanning devices that recognize a person as he or she walks down the street and, in response, beam targeted advertising messages into his or her brain. Cruise is on the lam, having been accused of murder… sort of… so being recognized for him is not an option.

Point is, the eye-scanning technology depicted in the movie is, by most accounts, pretty creepy stuff.

I bring it up because I recently read an article in Government Technology that said that two more states — New Jersey and Connecticut — have begun the switch to “federalize” drivers’ licenses in compliance with the Real ID Act of 2005. This legislation created national standards for state-issued ID cards that were meant to prevent forging and keep us safe after 9/11.

Real ID-Compliant Drivers’ Licenses Adopted by Connecticut, New Jersey

But unlike Connecticut and New Jersey, not all states are on board with the switch.

At least 20 states have pushed back by passing legislation that effectively says they won’t comply with the Real ID requirements. A policy position from the National Governors Association released in February said that while governors support the strengthening of security features in state-issued drivers’ licenses and ID cards, Real ID puts unnecessary cost burdens on states and the legislation’s requirements should be revised.

While states are citing logistical concerns, many individuals and groups such as Cato and the ACLU have raised a different issue: the fear that the federal government could use Real IDs to keep tabs on private citizens. Kind of like the government in the world of Minority Reports.

What do you think? Are federally mandated Real IDs creepy invasions of personal privacy or prudent and necessary to maintain national security?


“GovBytes” is a blog series created by GovLoop in partnership with Government Technology. If you see great a story on Gov Tech and want to ask a question around it, please send it to [email protected].

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Peter Sperry

I am in favor of Real-Id for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that with proper statutory safeguards, they can REDUCE, not increase, government monitoring of individual citizens. Essentially, a Real Id card provides definitive proof the individual is a U.S. citizen or legal resident at which point all monitoring should immediatly pass through a probable cause filter or halt immedaitely. Typical convesation: “Hello, governmtnet person, here is my Real Id, do you have probable cause to search my bags, grope my children, question me, monitor my movements etc? If not, go away and leave me alone.” Real id would not be a ‘get out of jail free” card, nor should it be; but it could be a very effective “leave me alone” card. BTW, probable cause means something that would be sufficient to support a search warrent. There may not always be time to get one but officials intending to intrude on individuals privacy should at least be prepared to provide the cause after the fact if called upon to do so.

Stephanie Slade

Do you really think an ID that proves your citizenship will allow you to refuse to be searched and whatnot without probable cause? And if so, doesn’t that hamper the government’s ability to keep us safe when we travel? I mean, being a U.S. citizen doesn’t mean TSA doesn’t have the right to search your luggage before you take it on a plane (understandably… citizens are just as capable of having malicious intent as non-citizens, right?).

Peter Sperry

You are correct that Real Id is not currently being used to protect constitutional freedoms; but it could be with enactment of supporting legislation and/or judicial rulings. The requirment for law enforcement, or any other government agency, to have (not necessarily demonstrate) probable cause prior to intruding on the privacy of individuals is not new. Real id would not crate a new right, it would merely make it easier to protect existing ones. As for TSA and other agencies which protecte us by treating every one as criminals, i am convinced future genrations will view themw ith the same distain and contempt we currently feel for those who herded Japanese Americans into intenment camps during WWII, led the Red Scare witch hunts of the 50s and 60s etc. They are a stain on our Constitutional rule of law and an embarresment to our nation.