Last week, the Department of Homeland Security released 162 pages of proposed regulations for the Real ID Act. The bill was (and basically still is) slated to take effect by May, 2008.
There's going to be a ton of things to say about this topic, as well as more than one kind of action to take on it. Over the next couple of weeks we will break down the complex web of information into simple bite-sized chunks for you.
But the most important thing you'll need to know today is that there are bills now offered in both the Senate and the House to repeal (not delay) the implementation of the Real ID Act. They are gathering co-sponsors and steam.
But this is going to be a tough battle. We'll need to do everything we can to fight it effectively.
* That means, we're asking you to please use our convenient Congressional Contact System to send a message of support for the bills to repeal (not delay) the implementation of Real ID.
* It also means that we need to continue making progress on monthly pledges to stay in this fight.
The thesis of today's message is that surveillance is not necessarily security, and that as a technique for crime and terrorism protection, surveillance is nowhere near as important as motivation.
Let's start with a hypothetical scenario.
You've seen it in the movies: A determined and experienced criminal learns that a very valuable art exhibit is coming to town, but to get in and see it, one must produce a valid ID, pass through checkpoints, and view it, while lasers, cameras, and security agents keep guard. Yet the thief succeeds. He gets the highly prized art.
Now, the movie entertains us by focusing on the "how" -- showing us what clever method the thief employed to secure his prize. Inevitably, we learn that the burglar exploited some vulnerability of the security system.
As you leave the theater, you might get the impression that sprinkling additional technology or resources (money) on the problem might've stopped the master thief -- the exhibiting museum could've foiled his plan.
Many things in life are determined by the quality of questions we ask. Protecting valuable art, or ourselves from terrorist attackers is no different. The right question is important.
The better question to ask if one is seeking to _prevent_ crime is "why" -- "What's the motivation for doing it?"
For the art thief, perhaps you can make the steal more expensive than it's worth.
But what if someone is willing to lose their life in the process of killing others -- in the belief that their cause is eminently just and that they will receive eternal reward? What then? Is more surveillance really going to work? Is sprinkling technology on the problem really going to protect us?
The art thief was focused on one exhibit. But if someone is a suicidal terrorist, they can spring up anywhere.
Let's be honest with ourselves here: surveillance technologies are valuable for forensics AFTER the crime, but they are like tissue paper in stopping a determined terrorist. Need proof? We have some of the 9-11 hijackers on camera going through a security checkpoint and presenting their IDs at Logan Airport in Boston.
The 9/11 Commission, as quoted by the Department of Homeland Security, described the need for Real ID this way: "For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons . . . All but one of the 9/11 hijackers acquired some form of identification document, some by fraud. Acquisition of these forms of identification would have assisted them in boarding commercial flights, renting cars, and other necessary activities."
"Would have assisted them . . . in boarding planes?" Did you catch that?
THEY DID ACQUIRE IDENTIFICATION DOCUMENTS -- from the government no less! And they did so in criminal (fraudulent) fashion!
Criminals doing things, criminally: who would've thunk it? There ought to be a law!
OK, so we make it harder to create fraudulent identification. That's the approach the federal government is taking with Real ID.
But "harder" means long lines at airports for YOU, longer lines and great inconvenience at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, again, for YOU. And estimates by an association of state legislators place the cost for implementation of Real ID at $11 billion (we'll have more to say about this in an upcoming message) -- that's $200 million, average, per state.
But maybe it's all still worth it? That would keep them off of airplanes, right?
Leaving aside that airplanes are but one type, of hundreds of types of potential targets, the answer would still be, "Not necessarily."
If the federal government creates a one-size fits all ID system, then it becomes much easier to clone -- to create a fake. Again, the problem is one of motivation -- or more precisely, incentives.
Identification and licensing is valuable for so many things. Without it, you can't drive a car, board a train or plane, buy tobacco, alcohol, or a gun. You need it to vote, open a bank account, or cash a check. You even need it to get a job.
At a recent talk by CATO scholar Jim Harper, an expert on the Real ID Act and other identification issues, the audience learned that the income difference available for someone with a working ID versus someone without such documentation (say, an illegal immigrant) approaches $15,000 per year. The going market rate is around $800 for a real good fake, state, ID.
Is that a bargain, or what?
But triple the price if you wish -- quadruple it. Will there be a market for super, national, one-size-fits-all, "Real" ID? And will terrorists pay even more still, if they're determined enough? . . . is $3,000 a prohibitive expense for someone looking to "do another 9-11?"
And will it be more profitable for black market forgery artists to focus their creativity on cloning and faking the national super ID -- the "Real" ID? Will these fakes be readily available?
You bet they will. Motivation is what matters here. The incentives are powerful and alluring.
This problem is directly comparable to counterfeiting Federal Reserve Notes (FRNs, a.k.a. cash). The $20 note needed refinement and redesign in 1998, and once again, in 2003. The $1 bill has been with us for quite some time, and yet the Bureau of Printing and Engraving says no plans are underway to update it.
Why? Well, counterfeiting $20 is much more lucrative than forging $1 bills. The technological advances of the forgerers progresses, locking the counterfeiters and the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, in something of an "arms race." It's quite expensive to us.
Because FRNs are legal tender for all debts -- one-size-fits-all money -- then it remains lucrative to clone cash.
In many ways, this issue also reminds us of prohibition.
* Take gun prohibition: When an area has strict gun control laws, the people most vulnerable are the law abiding citizens. They are frequently disarmed. Criminals, by definition, don't obey gun control laws. This gives them an advantage against their prey. But it certainly doesn't stop gun violence.
* Take drug prohibition: When a substance is banned, a black market steps in to meet the demand, at great profitability. Drugs even appear in prisons -- getting past guards, checkpoints, walls, cameras, etc.
It's naive and even dangerous to believe that laws are capable of keeping guns off the streets or even drugs out of prisons. Prohibition just doesn't work in either instance. New currency technology and Treasury Agents don't keep counterfeit bills out of circulation either.
And all the Kings Men, won't be able to devise an ID that is impervious to the creative efforts of very motivated criminal forgerers.
A whole new Humpty Dumpty industry is likely to crop up here, and no one is accounting for the bottomless pit of expense to our government (and that means to you the taxpayer), both in trying to put this flawed Real ID back together, again and again, as well as combat those forgery artists who creatively clone it.
The Real ID Act is a _fundamentally_ flawed idea. It came about by asking the wrong question: how, instead of why. Surveillance technologies are mere prohibition and they can't stop a very determined criminal. If anything, this Real ID will create a lucrative market for criminals (including terrorists) to tap into before they commit their terrible acts.
Please, send your representatives in Congress a message, right now, in support of the House and Senate bills that repeal (not delay) the implementation of the Real ID Act.
And then, please, help us with this public education effort by making a generous contribution or monthly pledge.
Also, please, forward this message to friends or blogs you think might be interested.