The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Real ID Nightmare

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact

George Orwell’s 1984 provided a chilling look into a future of a Big Brother government obsessed with control and surveillance of the populace.  Even though he brilliantly chronicled the trials and tribulations of Winston Smith, Orwell left out one aspect of such an overbearing security state – the financial costs.  The Real ID Act and Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) may be modern day manifestations of Orwell’s nightmare, except that these nonfictional laws include a price tag.

Passed quietly in May 2005, the Real ID Act established strict and costly federal minimum standards for state-issued drivers’ licenses, even though most states had already improved their methods of verifying and securing IDs.  In addition, WHTI, signed by President Bush on December 17, 2004, requires a new form of identification for Americans to travel to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.  Both new laws will be expensive and will erode Americans’ civil liberties. 

CAGW’s first foray into the Real ID Act was identifying the potential cost to states to comply with the new regulations.  There was a strong indication that the Department of Homeland Security was going to require a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip in all licenses.  CAGW estimated would drive up the cost of a license from $10 to $25 to at least $90 – a 260 to 800 percent increase – and could cost the states $17 billion to implement.  The state of Washington estimated that the new regulations would cost the state at least $97 million over three years, even though the Congressional Budget Office estimated the total cost to all states at only $100 million over five years. 

CAGW is also concerned about the creation a central database of personal information, which could be used to monitor the comings and going of American citizens. 

CAGW generated more than 5,000 petitions and letters in opposition to the use of an RFID chip, which helped convince DHS to back away from such a decision in its proposed regulations in February, 2007. 

Although the RFID chip is off the table for now, there is bad news to overshadow the good.  For instance, DHS estimates that implementing the proposed regulations without a chip will cost $17 billion.  DHS further stated that complying with WHTI will require an RFID chip in drivers’ licenses.

Thankfully, individual states are starting to take the lead in opposition to Real ID.  Currently, four states have opposed Real ID implementation, with more likely to follow.  States understand the financial burden that will be put on them by these new onerous regulations.  Civil liberties advocates in these states also understand the problem of a national database containing individuals’ personal information.

-- Dave Williams

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