“Real ID” Experience. Department of Motor Vehicles, Costa Mesa, CA.

I started with an appointment and a quick profile submitted online via https://www.ca.dmv.gov and a required account with https://ID.me. Papers printed, I appeared at the “Start Here” desk. Friendly people reviewed my paperwork, ensuring all items were in order before I proceeded.

Minutes later I was called to a window where I presented all of my documents and records, we chatted and I clarified basic “home address” questions. All documents were copied and originals were returned to me. The clerk handed me 2 sheets of my information to review and then sign. Signed. Please scan your right thumb, scanned. “The fee is $28 dollars.” Paid via debit card with my pin (no option otherwise).

“Please proceed to the photo area.” Proceeded. The judgy fella glanced me and my paperwork up-and-down, asked me to scan my right thumb, sign on a console, and stand behind the yellow line for my photo. 3, 2, 1. Flash. “That’ll work” he said, “You’re done.”

I was in and out of the DMV in less than 45 minutes. It was the most seamless process of any DMV experience I’ve ever had. People at windows next to me were arguing about what they were told, yet I slid through with little to no resistance because all of my papers were in order.

Driving away, I was nauseous. I had completed this process just to ensure that I could get on a plane by October of next year. I realized by the end of the experience that there is no chance I will be anonymous ever again. I had just been bagged and tagged at an unprecedented privacy-invading scale, and had done so willingly.

The following data was collected about me in one short visit to acquire an ADDITIONAL identification card, not just to revise my existing state driver’s license as originally implied:
– Birthdate
– Social Security Number
– Passport number and issuing country, physical proof
– State driver’s license and all related data points
– Home Address (I was asked multiple times, “Is this your residence?”)
– Mobile number, with confirmation (via ID.me)
– Email address, with confirmation (via ID.me)
– Internet service provider, IP address, GEO data, browser and (potentially) hardware signature of the computer used to register with ID.me
– Mailing Address, with 2 samples of evidence
– Height / weight / eye color / hair color (self provided, photo confirmed)
– Proof of services (gas/water/power) confirming home address via state-regulated via taxation service providers
– Finger print TWICE (see *NOTE)
– Bank account (that’s how I paid the fee)
– Bank account PIN (ACH transactions only, double-opt-in, no charge backs, guess who else has my pin now?)
– Marriage license (tied to all of my spouse’s details as described above)

“There’s no way this is a California DMV process” I kept thinking to myself. “It’s far too efficient.”

I was right. It isn’t. It’s the Federal government’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) who is funding the REAL ID project, coordinating the data collection and centralizing all of the individual identification data points … and it’s all about _you_.

The goal? According to DHS (see the link below), to prevent bad guys from “accessing Federal facilities, entering nuclear power plants and boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft.” As if they were all the same.

“Are you going into any Federal facilities soon?” Nope. Not by choice, anyway.

“Are you going into any nuclear power plants?” Mmmmm, not on my calendar this week. But it sounds wildly unrealistic that you would ask.

“Are you boarding an airplane this week?” Sounds like fun! Let’s go! “NOT SO FAST CRIMINAL! WHERE IS YOUR DHS-APPROVED REAL ID?!?”

There is now a tight little identification bundle about me, and another about my spouse, that contains all of the scanned documents, bank routing, account & pin numbers, service identifiers, images, finger prints, civil records and state agency records all tied to a brand spanking new record in the DHS database of U.S. citizens.

Had I known all of the details beforehand, I could have abstained, but that would also mean never boarding an airplane in the US again. I suspect it will eventually mean I can file my taxes, establish Internet services, get a new cell phone, all with my required REAL ID. I suspect our “REAL ID” is about to become the only means of identification accepted anywhere. Give it a year or two.

I live my life with a few, albeit huge, regrets. Today is amongst one of the greatest. As a data nerd, access to this pool of individually identifiable, relational data is a dream come true. As someone whom believes in the unalienable right of privacy, the fundamental right of innocence until proven guilty, and the right to ensure that my identifiable information isn’t used against me, without just cause, in a search to find a culprit for a crime I didn’t commit… all of this is an absolute nightmare. It only ends badly for those of us who _are_ the data, not the ones using our data against us.



1. https://www.dhs.gov/real-id
2. https://realid.dmv.ca.gov/

*NOTE: Single scan finger prints are flawed. You need a sample of data of multiple scans to build a profile. Your iPhone already taught you this. DHS now has not only my birth record scans of hands and feet, but 2 of my adult thumb scans.