[Dave Birch] At the RSA conference, Forum friend Toby Stevens from EPG was on a panel asking "Does Real ID really work?".  A quick primer: The US Real ID initiative aims to establishes a de facto national ID by establishing national standards for state driver’s licenses and ID cards. It mandates that states maintain accessible databases of documents used to establish identity but makes no provision for securing this data or controlling how data on the card is used.  So never mind "will it work", perhaps a better question is "will it be implemented".

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In fact, as Forum friend Max Most notes in this month’s Actuity Market Intelligence, whether Real ID is going to be deployed at all is far from obvious.  In Maine, the Senate and House of Representatives approved a joint resolution urging President Bush and the Congress to repeal the Real ID Act of 2005. It simply states "the Maine Legislature refuses to implement the Real ID Act of 2005."  Max says that the sound bite form Maine Senate Majority Leader Libby Mitchell says it all:

“The federal government may be willing to burden us with the high costs of a program that will do nothing to make us safer, but it is our job as state legislators to protect the people of Maine from just this sort of dangerous federal mandate.”

Maine is not alone. Georgia, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington state are expected to pass laws or adopt resolutions declining to participate while Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming already have.  And it’s not as the apparent poor cost-benefit analysis results are anything new, and people have been questioning whether it will make Americans safer or just waste $11 billion, a figure that doesn’t include wasted time by productive members of society.  Adam Shostack does point out, however, that it’s a lot less per-capita than the UK ID card scheme, and asks whether the British scheme is more fully specified, or the British cost estimates are more accurate.

Now, not all States are absolutely against it.  Paula Arcioni, the information security officer for New Jersey’s Office of Information Technology, envisions Real ID cards becoming smartcards that can be used to deliver efficient e-government (a bit like in Hong Kong, for example).  She also said that "scope creep" will be welcomed by citizens, but I’m not quite sure what this means.  So long as the scope of Real ID is restricted to identification then it might work: the range of uses it is put to are a different matter and not part of its own scope.  But I completely agree with her when she says that "All you are getting in e-government for the most part are things that don’t require strong two-factor identification".  Another perspective came from Denise Blair, who’s responsible for California Department of Motor Vehicles’ infrastructure.  California has the most licensed drivers of any state — more than 11 million as of 2005 — and Blair says that standardised Real ID cards mandated by Real ID could free her department to offer more services online; without strong authentication, the most advanced service the California DMV offers over the web is to allow residents to submit a change of address electronically.

The case of Driver’s Licenses, however, does throw up probably the biggest issue with Real ID. In Jim Harper’s
"Identity Crisis: How Identification Is Overused and Misunderstood" he makes an economic analysis of the particular kind of identity fraud around driver’s licenses.  These are generally obtained from corrupt DMV staff, and human nature being what it is, it’s unlikely to change.  But Jim’s key point, to me, was that DMV employees have been caught selling driver’s licences for $2,000 – $3,000 each.  But if you work out the wage differential between an undocumented worker (eg, an illegal immigrant) and a worker with a driver’s license, it would indicate that they are being sold at a substantial discount.  Therefore, Real ID cards will be sold for a lot more.  It’s not for a limey to comment on (or, frankly, understand) the complexities of the federal system and states’ rights, but it’s not obvious whether Real ID will make much difference to national security.

My opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public.
[posted with ecto]

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