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Our View: Rewrite REAL ID for real safety, less bureaucracy

While President Biden and his new appointees are busy examining the last administration’s actions, we’d like to suggest a good look at the wasteful, discriminatory and useless aspects of the 2005 REAL ID Act and its consequences.

As most people are probably aware, by October 2021 Americans who drive must have licenses with a special mark indicating they have provided specific documents to the state ensuring their real identities so they can use their license for federal purposes, such as boarding a plane or entering a federal building. (Only a passport will serve as a legitimate substitute.)

The act was passed in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as one of several measures intended to make the United States more secure.

Many who opposed the act felt it was a first step toward a national identification system, raising alarms that the federal government would now have a database of citizens it could use to violate their Constitutional rights – and furthermore, that such a database would now be available to hackers and others with nefarious intent.

The difficulty of actually implementing the act has caused its enforcement to be postponed over and over again.

In the meantime, ordinary people are finding it almost impossible to comply with the Byzantine rules about what constitutes proper proof of identity. Few people can gather all the required paperwork to pass muster on the first try, necessitating multiple trips to the Department of Motor Vehicles, along with endless waiting in line. This is true no matter in what state one resides. (COVID-19 has ironically made waiting times less in Colorado because appointments are required.)

The act makes it nearly impossible for many marginalized Americans who don’t have and can’t get all the required documents – immigrants, people who are homeless and many Native Americans – to successfully navigate the system. Colorado offers an “exception processing process” to help some people, and it is possible to get a non-REAL ID Colorado driver’s license or ID good for some uses.

But overall, REAL ID a Catch-22 bureaucratic nightmare familiar to anyone who’s spent much time in developing nations.

We suspect many people simply give up, meaning there are more people on the road who may never have taken a driver’s test and eyesight exam and may lack insurance.

And there is no evidence that the act will make Americans any safer, particularly from terrorists. The 19 hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks traveled on their foreign passports with visas issued by U.S. embassies and consulates overseas.

REAL ID can and has been used as a tool of discrimination.

The mother of an adopted 16-year-old born in a foreign country had to visit her local Colorado MVD office four times to get his learner’s permit. She had all the right documents the first time they went – but MVD employees kept demanding more and more proof that he was a U.S. citizen. It was annoying for her and a humiliating experience for the young man.

REAL ID does not substantially improve the safety of the American people. It has cost millions of dollars to create and over time will cost millions more to sustain. It puts Americans’ information at risk in a way that cannot be effectively mitigated and makes them subject to unjustified, invasive information searches by the government.

REAL ID should be rewritten to provide meaningful improvements in our country’s security. Advanced technology such as fingerprint or iris scanning should supplant the current documentation requirements.

We’re all for safety and security, but let’s end this REAL insanity.

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