A Sneaky Approach to the Question of National IDs

NPR's senior news analyst argues that the 'Real ID' proposal, as tacked onto the $82 billion supplementary spending bill for Iraq and foreign aid, is at best a half-mesaure that fails to undertake a full consideration of the merits of a national identification card.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has been keeping track of another story on Capitol Hill, and he's not very impressed.

DANIEL SCHORR:

One of the less-attractive features of our legislative system is the way Congress can, without hearings or extended debate, introduce a controversial new program by sneaking it into a bill that must pass. Such a bill is the $82 billion for Iraq and foreign aid. Such a sneak amendment is a mandate to the states to introduce far-reaching new rules for issuing driver's licenses. It is advertised as an anti-terrorist measure; it is also an anti-illegal immigration measure. And beyond that, it represents a step towards the oft-discussed national identity card.

Real ID the program is called, and how `real' it is remains to be seen. Briefly, it would require of the states that they verify whether an applicant for a driver's license or renewal is in this country legally. For aliens, licenses would expire when their visas do. It can be assumed that this will lead to more unlicensed and uninsured alien drivers on the road. The Real ID program is supposed to prevent intended hijackers from using driver's licenses for identity in boarding planes, as some of the 9/11 hijackers did. But it may not do more than have terrorists make sure that their visas are up to date.

As a measure to reduce illegal immigration, the program may be more effective, discouraging some aliens from entering the United States. But Real ID is, at best, a half-measure. Maybe it's time for Congress to face up to the question of a national identity card. I've lived in several countries whose citizens carry identity cards, inconvenient only when unmarried couples check into a hotel. If the time has come to consider an American identity card, it should be examined on its merits, not sneaked into some emergency bill. This is Daniel Schorr.

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