PASS ID | Citizens Against Government Waste


The WasteWatcher

In 2005, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) put on a full court press to stop the implementation of the REAL ID Act.  After being attached to a supplemental appropriations bill and being voted on without hearings or any debate, REAL ID was going to be an expensive national ID card that would have put tax dollars and privacy at risk.  REAL ID was supposed to be implemented by the end of 2008.  Due to states opting out and logistical problems, that deadline has been pushed to the end of 2009, a date that is still impossible to meet.

The legislation would have implemented, for the first time, a set of federal minimum standards for authenticating and securing drivers’ licenses.  States would have had to verify birth certificates, federal immigration documents, and Social Security numbers with the appropriate federal departments, build a database to store and secure individuals’ identification documents, and train personnel to use the new system.  Fees and taxes would have been jacked up to cover whatever costs were not covered by the federal government.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Cato Institute (a libertarian think tank), and other like-minded groups, including CAGW, launched a massive media campaign to expose the truth about REAL ID.  Many states objected to the cost and privacy implications of the new law, and either passed legislation or signaled their intent to ignore REAL ID.  Comprehensive information can be found at 

In 2005, after the release of CAGW’s report, “REAL ID: Big Brother Could Cost Big Money,” CAGW launched an online campaign to stop the implementation of REAL ID.  Ultimately, 5,200 e-mails were sent to then-DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff expressing concern about the cost and loss of privacy with the REAL ID Act.  CAGW estimated, and the Department of Homeland Security later confirmed, that implementing REAL ID would cost states $17 billion.

Recognizing the backlash, federal legislators went back to the drawing board and came up with what they considered to be a friendlier version of REAL ID, called PASS ID.  However, cost and privacy concerns remain.  

Even though PASS ID is advertised as a watered-down version of REAL ID, the cost to states could exceed $11 billion, because most of the provisions in PASS ID are identical to REAL ID.  These are costs that states will have to shoulder when most of them are already running deficits.

In regard to privacy, Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies of the Cato Institute wrote on the Cato blog that, “Like REAL ID did, PASS ID would require states to confirm that ‘a person submitting an application for a driver’s license or identification card is terminating or has terminated any driver’s license or identification card’ issued by another state.

“How do you do that?  You check the driver license databases of every other state. Maybe you do this by directly accessing other states’ databases; maybe you do this indirectly, through a ‘pointer system’ or ‘hub.’ But to confirm that you’re talking about the right person, you don’t just compare names. You compare names, addresses, pictures, and other biometrics.  Just like REAL ID, PASS ID would require states to share driver data on a very large scale. It just doesn’t say so. As with REAL ID, the security weaknesses of any one state’s operations would accrue to the harm of all others.”

Any chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  There is real potential for exposing private information through PASS ID.  Then there is the taxpayer problem; as they will be stuck with the bill.  So, don’t be fooled with PASS ID, because as Jim Harper pointed out in his blog: “…creating a national identity system that is privacy protective is like trying to make water that isn’t wet.”

Any attempt to revive REAL ID in any way is still a bad deal for everybody.

David Williams