And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. -- Revelation 13:16-18

Comparing the Real ID Act to the so-called mark of the beast clearly is an exaggeration, though hundreds of Web sites make that exact claim. Mark of the beast or not, considerable hysteria surrounds this piece of federal legislation, signed into law May 11, 2005.

Just what is it about this law that has people up in arms, claiming everything from police state to fascism to a sign of the apocalypse? What good, if any, will the Real ID Act accomplish?

Concern about the Real ID Act stems from two primary sources: First, the method by which the legislation passed Congress generated significant controversy. Second, the legislation's cryptic content is an open invitation to speculation.

Proponents of the Real ID Act say the legislation is simply a response to the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., introduced H.R. 418 on Jan. 26, 2005.

"The goal of the Real ID Act is straightforward: It seeks to prevent another 9/11-type attack by disrupting terrorist travel," Sensenbrenner said in response to the fact that all but one of the 9/11 hijackers used state IDs or drivers' licenses to board the planes.

Though the Real ID Act's purpose may be straightforward, its creation, passage and implementation are anything but.

Real ID Act Reality

The Real ID Act was created to address several security concerns. Foremost, the act creates a set of federally mandated standards regarding the information on state drivers' licenses. The act also requires states to follow specific procedures in terms of how they issue drivers' licenses. The act's primary goal, according to its sponsors, is to thwart future terrorism. In addition, the Real ID Act aims to improve border security, refine the definition of a refugee, and modernize deportation and asylum laws.

"What [the Real ID Act] tries to do is take recommendations and vulnerabilities that were highlighted by the 9/11 Commission," said Jeff Lungren, communications director for the House Judiciary Committee. "The 9/11 Commission recommends setting national standards for the issuance of identity documents. So the legislation aims to disrupt, dismantle and prevent another terrorist attack to the extent that terrorists and other criminals use identity documents that are easily counterfeited."

The Real ID Act piggybacked on the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief 2005 (H.R. 1268) -- a bill no member of Congress would dare vote against. This maneuver has resulted in accusations of the bill's sponsors subverting democracy in a power grab that demolishes states' rights.

"I think the process of this [bill's passage] caused a ton of controversy itself," said Ari Schwartz, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "This bill was done in a completely undemocratic manner, and I think that angered a lot of people."

Most opponents share this displeasure with the way the bill became law. Others have voiced concern that there's been too little coverage of the Real ID Act, considering the legislation's enormity.

"If you haven't heard much about the Real ID Act in the newspapers, that's not an accident," said author and internationally renowned security technologist Bruce Schneier. "The politics of the Real ID Act are almost surreal. It was voted down last fall, but has been reintroduced and attached to legislation that funds military actions in Iraq. This is a 'must-pass' piece of legislation, which means there has been no debate on the Real ID Act. No hearings, no debates in

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.