Friedland guessed that the Real ID Act will cost billions, and Schneier agreed.

"Real ID is expensive," said Schneier. "It's an unfunded mandate. The federal government is forcing states to spend their own money to comply with the act. I've seen estimates that the cost to the states will be tens of billions."

Even Murray admitted the act is going to weigh heavily on state government budgets. Exactly how heavily remains to be seen.

"Certainly it is going to take significant funding," he said. "Exactly how much will probably be dependant on some of the specifics of implementing the act, but it is going to be a significant cost to the states."

Coming Soon

Depending on whom you believe, the Real ID Act is either the desperately needed reformation of a major security gap, or an example of an Orwellian government exerting control over the lives of its citizens.

Only a few things are certain.

This bill is law; states have until May 11, 2008 to comply; every compliant driver's license will have embedded personal data about the cardholder; a national database will contain information on every American and legal immigrant who holds a compliant driver's license; it will be far more difficult for immigrants -- legal and illegal alike -- as well as refugees and even citizens to get drivers' licenses; and finally, the Real ID Act is going to cost a lot of money.

Will the Real ID Act make America safer? Or will May 11, 2005, be remembered as the beginning of the end of a democratic America? The real answer is probably somewhere in between. Opponents like Schneier fear this act is another indication that America is moving toward a police state.

"Security is a trade-off; we have to weigh the security we get against the price we pay for it," he said. "People who know they're being watched, and that their innocent actions can result in police scrutiny, are people who become scared to step out of line. They know that they can be put on a 'bad list' at any time. People living in this kind of society are not free, despite any illusionary security they receive. [The Real ID Act] is contrary to all the ideals that went into founding the United States."

Proponents like Lungren see the Real ID Act as a reasonable way to protect American citizens.

"[The 9/11 hijackers] deliberately chose drivers' licenses and state IDs as their identity documents of choice because state IDs and drivers' licenses give you a credibility. We need to ensure they are more difficult to get so the next Mohammed Atta is not able to use his six-month visa to obtain two drivers' licenses -- one good for five years and one good for six. These are provisions that make it more difficult for terrorists to hide in the open, like they did on 9/11."

Whatever you believe about the government, immigration, terrorism and the Real ID Act, those beliefs will be put to the test in less than 30 months.

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.