Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Really Bad ID-ea

The anti-terrorist hysteria has reached new heights last week with the House's surprise passing of the so-called "Real ID Act 2005". The bill itself has its problems and its potential merits -- it was based on findings and recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and advocates strengthening border and basically approving legislative oppression of brown peoples from those 'terrorist-y' countries. However, the potential balance struck between security and civil liberties did not see the light of debate; the proponents of the bill appended it to a much-larger and supposedly much-needed appropriations bill approving an $82 billion dollar increase in funds to troops overseas designed to buy them better armour and equipment. The large bill passed without much debate and this one, like some sort of scraggly-haired, gnome-like hitchhiker, grabbed shotgun and went along for the ride. I really have to wonder if the Bush Administration purposely defunds the army so that there will be such a huge outcry over the soldiers' unnecessary deaths due to shoddy armaments that the lawmakers will rush to write more appropriation bills that only a lame duck politician looking to commit career suicide would raise a bit of debate against -- thereby leaving the Administration ample opportunity to sneak legislation like the Real ID Act and changes to the Patriot Act through the House and the Senate. If you're an uncaring politico who has built a platform on supporting the troops (and tearing down the other guy who was actually... you know... one of the troops) but who has never even been in a battle zone, and you don't care how many soldiers die so you can establish your political legacy, then the strategy behind doing something like this is actually very cunning. Today, the Real ID Act 2005 is moving to the floor of the Senate, and this is pretty much the last chance for civil liberties advocates to have any real say. See, the problem is that the Real ID Act takes the wrong approach in the War on Terror -- in the spirit of Orwellian encroachment on a citizen's right to privacy, the Real ID Act essentially redefines the drivers license as a national ID card. Though still under the jurisdiction of the states (basically the federal government saying "we want this -- but it's up to you to figure out how feasible it is, how to do it, and to foot the bill"), the bill establishes an extensive list of requirements for a driver's license, including requiring a digital-identification strip containing a plethora of potential privacy-invading information (such as a digital image of one's fingerprint) accessible by anyone with the chip-reader (in theory, anyone from a cop to an employer to the guy who bags your groceries at the local supermarket). The bill also demands that applicants for driver's licenses present a ridiculous amount of identification just to have their application processed and that employees of state DMV's become experts in determining forgeries from authentic documents. Applicants will have to present birth certificates, photo ID, a valid utilities bill, and possibly even a copy of their tax returns and their mother-in-law to get a license -- which makes me wonder how one is expected to get a photo ID for... a photo ID? In this country, there are only three major forms of photo identification accepted by most institutions: a passport, a state ID, and ... a driver's license. Now, if one assumes that you don't have a driver's license because you are applying for one, applicants are now expected to bring another piece of photo ID which leaves only a passport or a state ID as acceptable forms. Only 20% of Americans have passports, which is not only an expensive document to get, but is generally useless for most Americans and requires a great deal of run-around, so most applicants will likely want to bring the "easier-to-obtain" (and only by comparison) state ID. Now, here's the irony -- the state ID is also obtained at a state DMV. It's basically the same person processing the state ID applications as the driver's license applications -- so the scenario is basically that 18-year-old Joe Schmoe fills out his application, brings all of his documents to Window A to get a state ID to prove his identity so two weeks later he can wait in the line for Window B to get his driver's license. So -- what I wonder is... if no photo ID is required to get the document at window A, why is the item received at window A required for processing of documents at window B? Now, I'm from Canada, the semi-socialist, large-government, pretty-much American country and even I think the red tape presented by this scenario is ridiculous. Secondly, DMV employees are required to detect forgeries and are essentially responsible for distinguishing the terrorist and illegal alien amongst us from the legal citizens and nonimmigrant residents (like me!). That basically turns the DMV into an arm of the FBI and the CIA -- and yet DMV employees aren't trained FBI agents. No offense to any DMV employees intended, but they're usually incredibly sweet and doting, over-weight, middle-aged women with mullets, who wear fuzzy sweatshirts with silk-screened angora kittens on them. I'm a little concerned that the federal lawmakers feel that the War on Terror's latest homeland security efforts should hinge on the judgement of the Simpsons' Aunts Patty and Selma. I'm not saying that Patty and Selma couldn't roll with the best the FBI had to offer, but, if we're not replacing Patty and Selma with Mulder and Scully, who's gonna foot the bill to ensure that our favourite chain-smoking, gruff-voiced bachelorettes have proper training? Several states have stated that they would protest the Real ID Act 2005 should it pass the Senate -- I guess the task being handed to them looks too daunting, particularly for several state coffers. But, the bill also establishes that states which do not abide by these new regulations on driver's licenses would find that their state IDs would no longer be valid as forms of identification for federal benefits ... such as getting Social Security, veterans' benefits, flying with local commercial airlines, or voting. So imagine this scenario: a state which for whatever reason decides that they will not conform to the Real ID Act. All its citizenry therefore carry invalid forms of photo ID and many are ineligible to vote. Suddenly, the ones getting screwed aren't even the states themselves; it's the citizens of that state which are having some of their basic Constitutional rights, among which is the right to participate in the electoral process, taken from them. And wouldn't that be the real blow to the democracy we're trying so hard to defend when fully half of, let's say, New York's residents couldn't have their say when it comes to Election Time 2008? Yet I'm betting "Screw Democracy, 2000!" Dubya isn't minding so much. Conservative pundits like LaShawn Barber actively bury their heads in the sand when comparing ID card requirements at voting booths with the literacy tests of Jim Crow that prevented blacks from voting. The problem is that, even in 2000 and 2004, we saw voter requirements being differentially applied to different regions based on red/blue tendancies or even racial makeup. Instead, Barber pish-toshes the idea that ID cards should be mandatory, wondering instead:

“Poor, black and elderly” citizens don’t know how to go down to city hall or the DMV to get an identification card? First of all, why don’t they already have picture identification? Don’t they drive or hold jobs? How do they cash checks, both welfare and earned, and open accounts, without proof that they’re who they purport to be? Ridiculous. (emphasis added)
Actually, Ms. Barber, no -- many people do not drive and in this era of poor economy and high unemployment, you should know better than to sardonically ask whether or not people are holding jobs. I am 22 and did not get my license until last month -- until this point I have lived in an area in which public transportation was an efficient and fairly cheap means of getting around. In places like NYC, driving is not only expensive but inconvenient and a luxury -- many residents of the city proper don't own cars and, with a complicated network of over seven subway lines spanning the entire island's underground, why would anyone bother getting a license? It's elitist and, dare I say, ignorant to assume that everyone has not only the inclination and means to get a driver's license, but also the time and money to invest in getting one -- I myself had to take two days off of work to get my license, and many people working in less flexible jobs don't have the kind of luxury to waste their vacation hours (should they even have any) on standing around in a line at the DMV. Financially, driver's licenses becoming a mandatory form of national identification also inconveniences the poor because people rarely have $200 of disposable income to spend on the full licensing process: in New York, I spent $60 on the written and road test, $30 on a mandatory 5-hour in-class course, and another $100 on a single driving lesson and a car rental for the road test, since I didn't have access to a car I could practice in or bring with me to my road test. Are we really saying, therefore, Ms. Barber, that the poor and unemployed don't deserve their basic civil rights like voting because they can't afford to get their driver's license? So yes, this measure does differentially discriminate against the poor and underemployed, not only by making it more difficult for them to drive if they need to get their license, but essentially taking away their ability to fly, vote, and get their Social Security cheques, if they don't. In my book, anything that impedes upon the participation of the masses in the democratic process will always find its bad outweighing the good. And I'm certain that by making it more difficult for people to vote, you'll find the already dismal participation of citizens in elections fall to even more alarming lows. Back to the Real ID Act, let us not forget the original reason why we've had all this hoopla over identification cards: the sudden panic over terrorists and illegal immigrants, and a general assault on all non-white immigrants. The Real ID Act 2005, as modified after passing through the House, gives several more restrictions on the entry and actions of anyone it defines as a terrorist. You know, the usual "fuck you" if you've participated in (or are suspected of participating in) a terrorist organization, given money to a terrorist organization, if you've recruited for one, if your brother's sister-in-law's first cousin's dog is a terrorist, etc, etc, etc. But check out the ambiguity of this particular clause, which defines what kind of alien seeking entry into the US is inadmissable:
`(i) IN GENERAL- Any alien who-- `(I) has engaged in a terrorist activity; `(II) a consular officer, the Attorney General, or the Secretary of Homeland Security knows, or has reasonable ground to believe, is engaged in or is likely to engage after entry in any terrorist activity (as defined in clause (iv)); `(III) has, under circumstances indicating an intention to cause death or serious bodily harm, incited terrorist activity; `(IV) is a representative (as defined in clause (v)) of-- -----`(aa) a terrorist organization (as defined in clause (vi)); or -----`(bb) a political, social, or other group that endorses or espouses terrorist activity; `(V) is a member of a terrorist organization described in subclause (I) or (II) of clause (vi); `(VI) is a member of a terrorist organization described in clause (vi)(III), unless the alien can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the alien did not know, and should not reasonably have known, that the organization was a terrorist organization; `(VII) endorses or espouses terrorist activity or persuades others to endorse or espouse terrorist activity or support a terrorist organization; `(VIII) has received military-type training (as defined in section 2339D(c)(1) of title 18, United States Code) from or on behalf of any organization that, at the time the training was received, was a terrorist organization (as defined in clause (vi)); or `(IX) is the spouse or child of an alien who is inadmissible under this subparagraph, if the activity causing the alien to be found inadmissible occurred within the last 5 years, is inadmissible.'.
(read the full Real ID Act 2005) Okay, is it just me or is just a little vague. A social, political or other group that endorses or espouses terrorist activity? Hmmm... Arabs and Arab Americans are a socio-political group. Some Arabs endorse or espouse terrorism. Could that little sentence be used to argue against the entry of virtually any Arab national? And then there's (VII), which in my mind, sounds like you could make the case against admitting someone who merely said "you know what, maybe them terrorists had a point -- they may have done a bad thing but they had some compelling reasons..." If that isn't thought-policing, I'm really not sure what is. Finally, I find the idea that a spouse or child of a terrorist is also inadmissible to be disconcerting -- why should the mere relation by blood of a person to a suspected terrorist be enough to deny a person entry into the United States? Doesn't that fall on the grounds of some sort of biological discrimination that a civilized society should be above? Prior to 1965, it was national or ethnic origins that was the basis for approval or denial of entry into America -- we realized this to be a racist and dicriminatory policy. Now we're under the assumption that another biological character of a prospective immigrant should be enough to deny him or her entry? If that's acceptable, then where do we draw the line between that and 'national origins'? All of this comes down to the fact that America is going to Hell in a handbasket. Conservatives will stop at nothing less than complete and total annhilation of all that makes the idea of America grand -- until the country is nothing more than a bunch of state-sanctioned, closed-door, xenophobic Bible-thumpers with a Rumsfeld behind every door and a Gonzalez peering through every window to make sure Mohammed Mohammed puts the right kind of mustard on his turkey sandwich, lest he get shot to shit by a bunch of overzealous, trigger-happy LAPD. Apparently, in the Bush Administration's zeal to fight the War on Terror, they're willing to go as far as it takes to make America a true haven of safety and security for all... so long as you're rich, white, and already own a car. Thanks to Wil Wheaton for getting me off my ass to blog about this. That Wil Wheaton?!? Yes, that Wil Wheaton. I've been dying for a reason to plug good 'ol Wesley's semi-political, semi-pokerific blog for weeks, and finally I have that chance. Don't worry, Wil, not everyone in the mid-90's hated Wesley Crusher; and I've got much love for ya now -- more so even now that you're showing you've got a brain that extends beyond the world of Star Trek.


Blogger shannon said...

Thanks for speaking up for us carless folks.

5/19/2005 10:43:00 AM  

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