by State Sen. Mike Folmer (PA-48)
Every federal and state-elected official took an oath to uphold the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions. It is imperative those in public office start taking these oaths seriously, beaÂcause each day that goes by, more and more of our rights and freedoms are being lost, and government’s appetite for collecting personal and private data continues to grow.
I believe the most egregious example of government overreaching into personal lives is the federal Real ID Act. Designed to protect Americans in post-9/11 society, Real ID would create a national identification card. Proponents of the act believe Americans should be stripped of essential liberties for the greater safety of the country.
The federal government says this plan will protect Americans from terrorists. I disagree. I believe it is a clear violation of the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, redefining privacy as we know it, and creating a mountain of new bureaucracy and increasing fees and taxes — all without making us any safer.
That is why I have reintroduced legislation (Senate Bill 621) that would exempt Pennsylvania from compliance with this unfunded federÂal mandate. Eleven states, including South Carolina, New Hampshire, Maine, Montana and Virginia, have already enacted similar statutes.
If Pennsylvania were to comply with REAL ID, in January 2010, driver’s licenses would become a standardized national identification card with a machine-readable zone containing valuable personal information. PennDOT would then be required to link into a massive naÂtional database, opening the door to the possibility of major security breaches.
In addition, transportation departments would retain digital scans of identification documents, including birth certificates and Social Security cards, for at least 10 years or seven years for a paper copy.
I understand the threat Pennsylvanians face on our own soil, but under REAL ID, that vulnerability is magnified times 50 and leaves us all exposed.
REAL ID also threatens privacy rights by empowering the Department of Homeland Security to collect biometric data, including fingerprints and eye scans, as well as placing Radio Frequency Identification chips in every American’s driver’s license. A proposal by State Sen. Shirley Kitchen, D-Philadelphia, Senate Bill 623, would prohibit government bodies from capturing or releasing biometric data without an individual’s approval or knowledge and prevent a slippery slope toward rights being stripped away.
Other requirements of REAL ID that take law-abiding citizens down a dangerous path are: what confidential data can be collected from driver’s licenses; where and how long it can be stored; and who is authorized to obtain, share, trade or sell that information.
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With one swipe of a license, an establishment can collect your personal data and use it for marketing purposes. State Sen. John Wozniak’s, D-Clearfield, proposed legislation (Senate Bill 622) would restrict information that can be made available from driver’s licenses for marketing or other purposes beyond law enforcement.
If we don’t exempt ourselves from REAL ID by the end of 2009, we are in real danger. This act is a major violation of Americans’ right to privacy and another example of the federal government overstepping its boundaries with the states — all with an anticipated unfunded federal mandate cost of $11 billion to already financially strapped states.
The assault on our right to privacy must end. Together, this package of bills can slow the increased flow of data in our daily lives.
Mike Folmer [send him email] of Lebanon, Pennsylvania is a Pennsylvania State Senator who represents the 48th Senate district, which includes all of Lebanon County and portions of Berks, Chester, Dauphin and Lancaster Counties.