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Federal Real ID May (Not) Be Required For Park Visit

Michael Chertoff, DHS portrait

I'm Michael Chertoff, head of Homeland Security, and I'm watching you through this computer screen right now.

It is hard to imagine at this point, but in just over a year, under a plan developed by Homeland Security, you may be asked to show a special federal identification to enter a national park. I can understand the security need behind having a passport to enter the country, and I can understand the need for important background checks before entering a nuclear facility, but needing the same federal security check to drive through a park is absurd.

On its surface, the Real ID program seems simple enough. Homeland Security wants to set some standards for the way states create their drivers licenses and i.d. cards. Beyond the fun of having a fancy new drivers license, you would be required to present it for any "federal purpose". You would have to show it to access planes, trains, court houses, and national parks. If that doesn't bother you, consider that all of the personal data which uniquely identifies you will be stored in a machine readable form (like a bar-code). Today this data is stuff like your social security number and address, but in the future could include biometric data like retinal scans or DNA; a treasure trove of detail for identity thieves. Plus, every time you choose to have a picnic at a park, your visit would be recorded in a massive government database. Bye bye privacy, hello big brother.

Today, this legislation is opposed by more than 600 organizations, including the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the American Library Association the Association for Computing Machinery, the National Council of State Legislatures, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the National Governors Association. Many states oppose this program as well, as they would be the ones responsible for the cost of the upgrading their licensing procedures and equipment. It's estimated the program would cost states $14 billion over the next decade.

Brodie Farquhar, a reporter living in Wyoming (and one who frequently follows issues in the parks), followed up with the NPS Washington Office about the Real ID requirement for parks in a recent article.

Gerry Gaumer, deputy director of communications for the National Park Service, said he’s not sure how Yellowstone, for example, or any other unit of the Park Service would handle the Real ID program.

"We’ve received no guidance from DHS, and this is the first I’ve heard of it," Gaumer said.

Rangers don’t currently check IDs at entrances to parks, he said. "And some of our areas are not fee-based," he added.

The Real ID is an issue that we'll track here at the National Parks Traveler. At this point, I'm of the opinion that this program may not have legs. It is opposed my so many organizations, states, and the current Congressional majority, that with a new President (Dem or Rep) we may see a shakeup in Homeland Security, and this thing will fall silently off the radar. At least that is what I'm hoping. Finding freedom in the parks would be a lot more difficult with the government tracking our every move.

We've received some additional detail from the National Park Service regarding this Real ID. This is quoted directly from the Federal Register notice of March 9, 2007 (pp. 10819-10858):

These regulations are not intended to change current admittance practices at Federal facilities. If a Federal facility does not currently require presentation of photo identification prior to entry, the Act and these proposed regulations would not require that process to change.

So, if you don't have to show a license now to get into parks, you won't have to under the Real ID program either. But, as has been pointed out in comments, if you hold a National Parks Pass or an America the Beautiful Pass, you are already required to show ID to verify you are the legitimate owner of the pass. I am sure that will continue to be the practice at entrance gates no matter what the fate of the Real ID program. However, I believe there would have been a big difference with the enforcement of Real ID program for a few reasons.

Potentially, every person entering a park would have to have a federally recognized Real ID and you would have had to show it to federal officers (park rangers) when asked. In most cases, this would have been your state issued drivers license which would include the Real ID updates. Park rangers would have then been able to scan your card, which would have recorded your visit into a federal database. You would not have had a choice about this. It sounds very '1984', huh?

Fortunately, this does not appear to be the direction this program is going in the national parks. (Sorry for the bold, but I felt it necessary to stress that point.) Today, when you are asked to show your license with a park pass, you have made an implicit agreement to do so when you bought the pass. If you chose to pay cash to enter a park, you would not be asked for your ID. The only other time I can think we are currently asked for our ID in parks, is when a law enforcement ranger asks us to do so for reasons associated with public safety or resource protection.


Just last week I was at some big box store, paying cash for whatever it was I was buying, and the cashier looks at me with a straight face and says "I need your phone number" before he'll ring up the sale and give me my change.

My response: "You're kidding, right?"
After a blank stare and an awkward silence, I just said "No thanks" so the cashier could continue.

He probably has no clue why I reacted that way. Today's kids are getting brainwashed into thinking this is the way it has to be. My advice would be to appeal to them directly Jim. They're in the most danger of having their brains turned off, and if you can get them excited about it, most likely to rise up against the trend.

I've been giving out fake zip codes to cashiers for years now. It's fun to mess with the system. Sometimes I throw in a Canadian postal code just to watch them squirm. 99783 is a good one to use -- Wales, Alaska -- about as close to Russia as you can get.

What's your phone number? 867-5309? :)

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I 'googled' this site after a confrontation I had yesterday at a Social Security office in Iowa. Going to the office to report my mother's death I was immediately met in the 10x10 waiting room by an armed SS guard (Dept of Social Security was on his badge). After my wife presented her driver's license I questioned the guard why this was necessary. He abrubtly stated it was a requirement at all federal facilities and because there was a sign posted at the entrance. Before reacting (or over-reacting) I decided to research this violation of my freedoms to walk into a public facility (non-fee). Here are my conclusions: (Btw: This relates to the NPS system blog at the bottom)

1.) EVERY instance needs to be challenged despite the convienance (or lack of) instead of trying to organize on a large scale. Organization on large scales are important but individual refusal to accept totalitarianism is fundamental. Doing right is always more important than doing what is easy (in this case doing nothing).

2.) The recent case of the woman riding a public bus to work, and her subsequent arrest, through a federal facilty will provide some light on how serious this will be as the DHS is going to start needing 'case-laws' for future violators of this 'law'.

3.) If you think this is about the war on terror, then you are an idiot. The war on terror is a fabricated enemy to keep us in fear and the need for a strong government with its surveilance, policing, and intelligence agencies. How will we know when we've won? Seriously people, instead of viewing porn on your internet, research ALL the inconsistencies of the 9/11 'attack'. If it was by terrorists, why hasn't anything happened since then? Are our security measures SO amazing that we've eliminated every single possible majot/minor terrorist action since 2001? Possibly research the recent transfer of armed nuclear weapons from Minot AFB, ND to Louisiana LEAK that resulted in every single person involved inthe leak dying of mysterious deaths since Aug 30, 2007 (leak date) (ie, car accidents, plance accidents, heathly people dying of cancer, etc). Point: SOME people are speculating that the low-grade weapons were not intended for Iran but to secretly be detonated on OUR soil to give the war on terror new 'life'.

4.) To the person that said they don't mind because the government already has our information, wants them to know what parks are getting the traffic, and .. since the corporations have already been collecting personal data on us for year ... that it is okay. Repsonse: OMG!! You have serious trust and/or lack of discernment issues. You are, or also probably surround yourself with, victims that are constantly being 'enabled' and never cured.

5.) Lastly, you all are concerned about the welfare of the NPS but it is just microscopic compared to the bigger things that are going on. Below are to google video sites that should be viewed. Once you see eith of these you will stand up against EVEN the idea of an encroachment of our freedoms ... in any area.

Directors cut (AWESOME):

15 minute PROMO (Very Good):

I look forward to your replies: I dare you to watch the/a above video(s) and see what your think about the Real ID Card in our 'national' park system.

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