Show me your papers

Show me your papers
By Ed Quillen

When I attended Chappelow Elementary School in Evans, Colo., 45 years ago, we often recited the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the school day. We were also taught that America was a great country for many reasons, among them our freedom to travel.

In other countries, like the Soviet Union of the time, and the Nazi Germany that had been defeated only a dozen years earlier, residents had to carry government identification and internal passports. These papers had to be presented to board a train or bus. The evil totalitarian government kept track of their movements, and punished people who traveled without permission.

We haven’t quite reached that point, but we’re getting closer. Last week, Congress passed a supplemental appropriation of $82 billion to pay for military actions in Iran and Afghanistan.

It passed the Senate unanimously, since a vote against it could be spun as “a vote against supporting our troops” and that would be political suicide. Republican operatives in the U.S. House of Representatives knew that, so they attached another provision to the military appropriation: the “Real ID Bill.”

Basically, it sets standards for state-issued driver’s licenses. It doesn’t require the states to follow the standards, but if your state doesn’t kowtow to Big Brother in Washington, then your driver’s license won’t be accepted as proper identification for boarding an airplane or entering a federal facility.

And if you think it’s a time-consuming pain in the posterior to visit the driver’s license office now, just wait until this Real ID kicks in. You’ll need a photo ID, proof of birthdate and address, proof that your Social Security number is valid, and proof of your citizenship status. And the state, in order to issue the license, will need to verify your documentation, digitize it and put it in storage.

The license will have to provide certain data: name, address, date of birth, sex, ID number and photo – and all this will also have to be readable in some digital format prescribed by the Department of Homeland Security.

Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, Republican majority leader in the upper house, called this “absolutely critical to winning the war on terror.”

It seems absolutely critical in making this nation more of a police state, but it’s hard to see how this has anything to do with making America more secure.

For one thing, the country got along without government ID cards for many years. Social Security cards used to say, “Not to be used for purposes of identification.” As for driver’s licenses, our neighboring state of Wyoming didn’t even bother with them until 1948 – and America somehow got through World Wars I and II.

For another, consider that last month, we commemorated the 10th anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. One of the perpetrators was Timothy McVeigh, a decorated Army veteran with an honorable discharge. Before the bombing, would he have had any trouble getting a Real IDs? Of course not. The Real ID could not have prevented one of the most destructive acts of terrorism in American history.

And there are other possibilities that reduce public safety. The more paperwork it takes to get a driver’s license, the more unlicensed, and presumably uninsured, drivers on the highway. That can’t be good for public safety or security.

Identity theft should get simpler with state information repositories that are required to be accessible nationally. Besides, has there ever been a document that couldn’t be forged?

In other words, Real ID just sets up more bureaucratic paperwork. It won’t make us an iota safer, but it will take us another step toward the internal passports of totalitarian regimes.

But to be fair and balanced here, I should note that President Bush said that “This legislation will help America continue to promote freedom and democracy.”

I guess there’s a difference between promoting freedom and practicing it.

Ed Quillen of Salida ( is a former newspaper editor whose column appears Tuesday and Sunday.

Article Last Updated: 5/14/2005 10:17 PM

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