PRESS EDITORIAL: The costs of living in the age of terrorism

Some of the folks waiting in line in the early-morning cold to enter the Ozaukee County Justice Center might recall the refrain that was heard often in the immediate aftermath of the 9/ll attacks: “If we go too far in restricting Americans’ rights in response to terrorism, then the terrorists have won.”

The terrorists haven’t won, but the Americans who need to enter the Justice Center are losing a fair amount of their time and convenience because of newly enhanced security measures at the building on the south side of Port Washington.

The new system requires people to enter a glass enclosed area, put all of the possessions being carried or on their person in a pass-through drawer and go through a metal detector. It is proving to be a slow process, sometimes resulting in a line of people waiting outside to get into the security enclosure.

“We’ve had jury members waiting in line out the door and standing in the cold,” Clerk of Courts Mary Lou Mueller said.    

For many years, security at the Justice Center entrance went smoothly with a process in which  people put their belongings in a tray, walked through a metal detector, then picked up their items after they had been inspected by deputies.

Balancing the need for public safety with the right of the public to access its government buildings with reasonable convenience is not easy, but it should be noted that thousands of such buildings across the country manage it.

Ozaukee County officials, of course, did not intend to make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to enter the Justice Center; in fact, they hoped the $200,000 entrance changes would speed the process. So there is reason to believe they will find a way to modify the system so that people don’t have to wait outside in the forbidding atmosphere of a Wisconsin winter to seek the help of county record-keeping offices or answer summonses for court hearings or jury duty.

No such optimism, unfortunately, is warranted in the case of another reaction to the advent of the age of terrorism—the widely resented arrival of Real ID. It is all but certain it will be here in less than a year.

When it was proposed as a federal law in 2005, it seemed that nobody wanted it except its sponsor, U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Menomonee Falls. It was passed by Congress only because it was appended to military spending and tsunami relief bill.

Since then there have been numerous attempts to get rid of it. Bills were introduced in Congress to make it go away. Legislatures passed laws forbidding their states to adopt it. Other states simply ignored it, refusing to act on its requirements. Republican and Democratic administrations treated it as an issue too toxic to advance. Numerous deadlines came and went.

Yet, like the cockroach that survives a nuclear explosion, Real ID somehow lives on, and the Trump administration insists it will take effect on October 1, 2020. When that happens, people will not be able to fly on commercial planes in the U.S. or enter federal buildings or military bases without a Real ID card or a passport.

Real IDs are standardized drivers licenses that are issued by states but can serve as national ID cards. To obtain one, Americans have to appear at motor vehicle department locations with birth certificates and other documents proving identity with their full legal name, residency, proof of legal presence in the U.S. and their Social Security numbers.

The idea of a national ID card was controversial from the minute Sensenbrenner proposed it, starting with the fact that, as security experts and other observers pointed out, it would not have prevented the tragic events of 9/11 (because the hijackers had passports).

Critics assailed the cost to taxpayers in every state (estimated to total more than $11 billion), the onerous requirement that citizens appear at DMV offices with their personal documents and the creation of national identification system that has been anathema in the U.S. since the nation was founded as a democratic republic.

Aversion to a federal ID requirement has been so strong among elected officials of all political persuasions, as well as privacy and civil liberties advocates, that when the Department of Homeland Security was established by Congress it was prohibited by law from creating a national identification system.

Though Real ID records will be maintained by the states, the databases will be standardized and thus able to function as a national identification registry. The fact that personal information of hundreds of millions of Americans will be accessible through 52 separate motor vehicle departments has probably not escaped the attention of potential hackers.

To get a Real ID license, Wisconsin residents will have to take their documents to a DMV location. Once their information has been inspected and approved, they will qualify for a Real ID license. People whose regular drivers license is set to expire before October 1, 2020 will pay only the standard license fee. Others will have to pay an extra charge for the privilege of possessing a Real ID license.

That’s just one of the prices of living in the age of terrorism.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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