REAL ID Expensive, Not Better

Published December 1, 2007

Some security experts question whether licenses and documents compliant with REAL ID will be more effective than the existing state-run license systems. As Timothy D. Ringgold, CEO of Defense Solutions, pointed out, some of the 9/11 hijackers had real drivers’ licenses–they were who they said they were.

“The driver’s license is a credible i.d. card and probably as good a system as we’ll get,” said Ringgold. He suggests one improvement motor vehicle departments could employ would be to require passports as proof of identity instead of Social Security cards, calling relying on the latter to authenticate identity “a joke.”

Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, went further, saying to give REAL ID prominence as a security tool is “security theater.” He said it’s important to control how cards are issued and to prevent forgeries, but doing so does not require a centralized, uniform identification.

“As long as we apply common sense, we should be able to tighten up security without a national identity database,” concurred Ringgold.

To some extent, the technology discussion is moot, for even if states wished to comply with REAL ID, DHS estimates it will cost about $11 billion to do so. No one seems to know where that money will come from.

“The lack of funding for REAL ID clearly calls into question how serious Congress is,” said Ringgold.

Sharon J. Watson