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Should Oklahoma really just roll over, accept REAL ID?

Nick Oxford / Red Dirt Report
A TSA officer at Will Rogers World Airport checks a passenger's ID.
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NORMAN, Okla. – So Oklahoma has been given another extension to bring Okie licenses into compliance with the REAL ID Act of 2005. We have until June 6 to impose the new standards, after which Oklahoma residents won’t be able to enter a federal building or board a domestic flight without either a passport or other ID compliant with REAL ID standards. 

While that might not sound very severe, one can easily imagine a gradual escalation in penalties for failing to comply. A flood of editorials have recently poured forth from Oklahoma newspapers, chiding lawmakers for their obstinacy, and pleading with them to just grow up and pass REAL ID compliance. 

No response at all is mounted against the myriad legitimate concerns over the surveillance implications of such an ID card. Instead, readers are treated to what amounts to a verbal eye-roll as the author dismisses REAL ID opponents as paranoid conspiracy theorists who are going to soon ruin a lot of trips to the airport for residents if they don’t shut up and get in line.  

As an example, The Norman Transcript ran an editorial on Jan. 6, making the same case as every other pro-REAL ID editorial, meaning that the only argument provided is the inconvenience that residents will be forced to endure as they apply for a passport. No mention is made of the supposed benefits of the new ID card, and concerns about REAL ID are dubbed “hair-brained conspiracy theories” and tossed aside. But these concerns shouldn’t be ignored.

REAL ID, a piece of legislation attached to a military spending and tsunami relief bill and therefore passed with no debate, is effectively a national identification card. The information on the card will be stored in a federal database, which can and will be accessed by every state and federal law enforcement agency. 

Ostensibly created to detect and prevent terrorism, illegal immigration, and the various identity theft crimes that occur on a daily basis, opponents of REAL ID believe that mission creep is inevitable, and that the uses of REAL ID will expand into areas that would be very harmful to the liberty of law-abiding citizens. An example of the mission creep inherent in REAL ID would be what former Department of Homeland Security Assistant Director for Policy Stewart Baker had in mind as a novel use of the new ID cards. 

In 2008, he suggested that a REAL ID be a requirement for the purchase of over-the-counter cold medicine Sudafed, supposedly aiding in the fight against methamphetamine production. This comment makes clear that the slippery slope to controlling the economic activity of U.S. citizens through a national ID card is far closer than officials would have us believe.

The REAL ID database will also funnel driver’s license photos into the already-massive facial recognition database that every law enforcement agency has access to. REAL ID would bring every U.S. citizen into the biometric fold, and facial recognition software could quickly sweep through the hi-res images to find whoever they might be looking for.

REAL ID also contains within it what some call the “dictator clause,” which gives the Secretary of Homeland Security wide latitude in determining what the ID will be used for in practice. In section 201 of the REAL ID Act, there are listed four “official purposes” that the ID will be used for: entering federal facilities, boarding a federally-regulated aircraft, entering a nuclear power plant, and last but not least, “Any other purpose established by the Secretary of Homeland Security.” 

That last one appears to give the DHS Secretary almost unlimited power to determine how the ID will be used, and opponents are rightly worried just how it will be used after implementation.

In reality, there’s not nearly enough danger to US citizens to justify this level of surveillance on such a grand scale. The world is a safer place for people than ever before in its history, you’re more likely to be crushed by furniture, killed by a cop, or strangled by your own clothes than killed by a terrorist. The odds of being killed by a refugee are one in 3.6 billion. 

The poisonous rhetoric of fear has fueled this ridiculous expansion of surveillance power to the point where the United States is on the verge of accepting a national ID card. The fear is baseless, yet people swallow hook, line, and sinker. 

The debate over REAL ID has raised a more fundamental question about the relationship between the states and the federal government: at what point is it legitimate for a state legislature to say no to the dictates of a federal bureaucracy? When is putting the foot down an appropriate response, or are we to never challenge a federal demand? 

And, more fundamental probably, at what point is it appropriate to oppose further increases in the power of government to track and surveil our every move? It may sound like a paranoid raving, but it’s important to envision the power we’re fine with handing over to a president we adore might one day be wielded by a president we despise. 

Kill lists, drone strikes, an uncontrolled, and apparently uncontrollable, surveillance bureaucracy, an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, and a pen and a phone, were all put to use by Obama to thunderous applause from supporters. That power will now be in the hands of Trump, and no one knows what the hell he will do with it. 

Resistance to the construction of a surveillance apparatus, the size and scope of which is unprecedented in the history of mankind, is based partly on the scenario of bad people gaining power. But, as we should know, good people, driven by noble intentions, can still instigate atrocities. 

Good or bad, nothing justifies this level of surveillance, and Oklahoma should reject REAL ID completely, as well as the putrid totalitarian philosophy that undergirds it.

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Shane Smith

Shane Smith is an accountant and freelance writer with a bachelor's degree in economics from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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