Congress just passed it and Dubya has promised to sign it and the Homeland Security Department is giddier than Mel Gibson in a nail factory over it and marketers nationwide are salivating at the groin at the prospect of it, and the next big step toward America becoming an even more delightfully paranoid and draconian Big Brother wonderland has now officially been taken.
It's called Real ID. It is, in short, a new and genetically mutated type of driver's license for all Americans, replacing your current license and replacing your Social Security card and replacing your sense of well being and privacy and humanity and part of a new, uniform, deeply sinister, national uniform card system whereby every person living and breathing in these paranoid and tense times shall henceforth be much more traceable and watchable given how we will all soon be required by law to carry this super-deluxe computerized ID card with us at all times, packed as it will be with more personal, digitized info about you than even your mother knows.
Real ID is coming very soon. The legislation was passed with little outcry and zero debate by both House and Senate just last week because lawmakers snuck it into a massive $82 billion military spending bill, and therefore no one was really paying much attention and this is the way you get thorny disturbing culturally demeaning bills to pass without resistance from smart people who should know better.
The new law will, according to the Wired News story linked above, require everyone to hand over not one, not two, but fully four types of documentation to renew their driver's license, such as a photo ID, a birth certificate, proof that their Social Security number is legit and something that validates their home address, like a phone bill. DMV employees will then have to verify the documents against giant teeming federal databases and store the documents and a digital photo of you in a database. Isn't that fun? Doesn't that sound gratifying?
What's more, the card's design plan includes multiple openings for the Homeland Security Department to add on whatever features they deem necessary, with or without your knowledge, consent or who the hell cares what you think because we do what we want now please shut the hell up and quit asking questions.
Computer (RFID) microchip? Likely. Digital fingerprint? Sure. Political affiliation? You bet. Web-site-visit log and religious affiliation and recent sperm count and arrest record and drug addictions and medical history and blood type and gender orientation and parent's/children's home address and number of personal blog posts calling Dr. Phil a "slug-licking ego-bitch charlatan" and your recent purchase history on shotathome.com? One guess.
Make no mistake: Real ID, in short, takes us one happy step closer to a total surveillance state, where everyone is stamped and everyone is watchable and everyone is traceable and unless you live way, way off the grid out in the increasingly nonexistent hinterlands, you cannot escape the spazzy and twitchy and paranoid eye of Homeland Security.
Remember the scenes in that surprisingly not-awful Tom Cruise flick "Minority Report" with the ubiquitous eye scanners, installed all over the near-future city? And as poor Tommy ran around like a maniac, little scanner machines installed by the gummint would read the eye pattern of every citizen as they walked around and the system could track anyone at any time no matter where they might wander and all the info was dumped into a huge database that was studied and cross-checked and manipulated by the CIA and FBI and Banana Republic?
Real ID feels much like that, only not nearly as cool.
Real ID is, as you might expect, giving civil liberties groups and immigrant-support groups the hives. State governors across the nation are none too happy, either, as implementation of the new law will cost each state hundreds of millions of dollars, but, of course, the bill provides zero federal funds to help. Such is the BushCo way.
This is the funny thing. This is the sad thing. This is the terrifying thing. We have suffered one major debilitating act of terrorism in this nation and we have recoiled so violently, so rabidly, so desperately that we are still more than willing to give up whatever freedoms necessary in a vain and silly attempt to control chaos and plug every hole, when of course the nation is basically one giant hole to begin with.
Of course, any good conspiracy theorist worth his secret underground bootleg Area 51 videos will tell you this sort of citizen-surveillance thing has been going on for years, decades, from spy satellites to GPS to all manner of phone tracking and e-mail snooping and behavior watching and this Real ID thing only takes it a little more public, national, makes it part of the cultural lexicon because we have finally weakened so much we just don't seem to give a damn what they do to us anymore.
Don't think it's all that bad? Think BushCo's flying monkeys in the CIA and FBI and Homeland Security really have your best interests at heart and are genuinely trying to protect you from scary swarthy furriners who want to sneak into our country and poison our Cheerios and paint our flag orange and cover our wimmin in burlap? Have at it. The GOP would love to have you. Oh, and while you're at it, enjoy that tiny grain-of-rice-size bar-coded implant RFID microchip the FDA just approved, which they can permanently slip under your skin in about 20 seconds, with nary a peep.
This is what's happening now. With Real ID (and who knows what else), the government is cracking down and creating a new and improved and far more devious and exploitable system to monitor its citizens because, well, because we let them. Because millions of us have been pummeled so successfully by the fear-mongering Right. Because we have never been so lax, so blinded by warmongering and dread, so numbed to what might become of us.
Ah, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this is just rampant paranoia talking and it's just a silly piece of harmless legislation and Real ID is overall a genuinely good and useful idea that will ultimately make us safer and more secure. You think?
Because hasn't BushCo proven to be reliable and honest and just reeking with integrity about privacy and security issues so far? Hasn't the USA Patriot Act been just a wondrous boon to police and CIA and our sense that we are trusted and cared for by our government? Aren't we all feeling just so much safer with this most secretive, least accountable administration at the helm?
After all, why not trust the government on this? Why not put our faith in the goodly Homeland Security Department? Maybe Real ID really is patriotic and constructive and it will be a smooth and secure and completely inviolable system, one that protects citizens while giving them a new sense of freedom to move about the country with carefree flag-waving ease, safe in the knowledge that their big, snarling gummint is watching over them like a protective mother bear -- as opposed to, say, a female praying mantis, who greedily screws her lover, and then, of course, eats him alive.
Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SF Gate, unless it appears on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which it never does.
© 2005 San Francisco Chronicle