If the DHS and states choose to go that route, the security risks are enormous; the potential for abuse by government and business are mind-bending. A central database containing that much information creates an irresistible target for identity thieves, terrorists or other computer criminals, not to mention unscrupulous government employees. DHS could have shown leadership here by insisting on a much more privacy friendly query system that did not expose personal information to risk or by building such a system themselves But by taking a hands off approach, they avoid any obligations under the federal Privacy Act, which while not a complete answer at least offers some protection for the data.
The phased implementation of Real ID does offer some hope, in that it gives Congress and the next president the chance to do what the current administration has refused to do: Take decisive action on this dangerous law by repealing it and devising a rational approach to driver's license reform that doesn't threaten the privacy rights and civil liberties of virtually all Americans.
Leslie Harris is president and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology.