Making 'Real ID' real

The Baltimore Sun

Gov. Martin O'Malley's decision to cooperate with the Bush administration on Real ID is a mistake.

The decision turns clerks at Maryland's Motor Vehicle Administration into immigration officers, forcing them to ask prospective drivers about their immigration status and then assess the validity of documents - a troublesome chore even for well-trained immigration officers.

Moreover, Real ID will push illegal immigrants further into the shadows, where they will be deterred from reporting crimes to police or using emergency rooms. Because those who drive will not have a license or liability insurance, the risk for all drivers will likely increase.

Although anyone who fails to carry a Real ID will find it difficult to function in society, most "suspects" under the program will be nonwhite. According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, "There would be intense scrutiny of and discrimination against individuals who chose not to carry the national identification card and those who 'look foreign.'"

Although the Bush administration labels opponents of Real ID as anti-security, the program likely will lessen security by making databases of personal information accessible to third parties and vulnerable to data theft. Further, the underfunded federal mandate of Real ID will force Maryland to divert millions of dollars from the state's starved homeland security budget, diminishing homeland security preparedness.

It is interesting to note who profits from the hype surrounding programs such as Real ID. Security management companies whose lobbyists are former Department of Homeland Security officials have a clear upper hand when it comes to getting contracts and lobbying the government for more outsourcing opportunities.

Such security management leaders as Accenture Ltd., Digimarc Corp., KPMG's BearingPoint and Unisys have profited from the increasing "securitization" of immigration control and driver's licenses. In 2004, Accenture received a $10 billion DHS contract for the US-VISIT program, a border control system, and the company is a leading contender for Real ID contracts to privatize state motor vehicle departments.

Accenture and the others have also profited from the "virtual fence" that socially controls U.S.-Mexico border crossers by tracking them long after they cross. And according to Washington Technology, these companies "are tracking opportunities in state motor vehicle IT system upgrades worth about $500 million to $700 million in the next two years."

For each program, these companies would scan passports and visas into a massive database of information, which the Center for Digital Democracy reports would consist of Social Security numbers, phone numbers, residence addresses and even medical histories - all without privacy protections. The security management industry is not responsible for lost or inaccurate data, or information that ends up in the hands of unsavory third parties. It is not bound by the dictates of the Freedom of Information Act, and nothing in the law prevents it or the MVA from sharing personal data with other government agencies, private employers or insurance companies.

Further, Real ID reduces judicial authority to review important immigration-removal decisions. This unaccountable mess also violates the spirit of the Privacy Act of 1974, which requires that individuals must have control over their personal information. Regrettably, DHS' final regulations for Real ID, issued Jan. 11, fail to make the Privacy Act binding on this program.

Once again, illegal immigrants are the scapegoats. They have been driven off the road this time to advance a neoliberal political agenda bent on hollowing out government services and advancing Orwellian strategies of surveillance and control by private means and without judicial scrutiny.

Mr. O'Malley's progressive vision for the state on other matters will be severely compromised by this wrongheaded decision about Real ID.

Robert Koulish, a political scientist and France-Merrick professor of service learning at Goucher College, writes often about immigration. His e-mail is, and his blog is

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