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DHS official moots Real ID rules for buying cold medicine

Slippery slope

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A senior US Department of Homeland Security official has floated the idea of requiring citizens to produce federally compliant identification before purchasing some over-the-counter medicines.

"If you have a good ID ... you make it much harder for the meth labs to function in this country," DHS Assistant Secretary for Policy Stewart Baker told an audience last month at the Heritage Foundation. Cold medicines like Sudafed have long been used in the production of methamphetamine. Over the past year or so, pharmacies have been required to track buyers of drugs that contain pseudoephedrine.

His comment came five days after the agency released final rules implementing the REAL ID Act of 2005 that made no mention of such requirements. It mandates the establishment uniform standards and procedures that must be met before state-issued licenses can be accepted as identification for official purposes.

Beyond boarding airplanes and entering federal buildings or nuclear facilities, there are no other official purposes spelled out in the regulations. And that's just what concerns people at the Center for Democracy and Technology. They say Baker's statement underscores "mission creep," in which the scope and purpose of the REAL ID Act gradually expands over time.

"Baker's suggested mission creep pushes the REAL ID program farther down the slippery slope toward a true national ID card," CDT blogger Greg Burnett wrote here. He says requiring people to produce a federally approved ID to buy cold medicine is a good example of the "significant ramifications" attached to the act.

So far, 17 states have formally opposed REAL ID, which takes effect on May 11. Residents of those states will be subject to additional searches and other inconveniences when flying and may be barred from entering federal buildings and nuclear plants.

Baker's statement belying the official DHS position on REAL ID isn't the first time the agency has made confusing remarks about the legal requirements surrounding identification. According to travel writer Edward Hasbrouck, DHS officials continue to plant the misunderstanding that residents from states which don't comply with REAL ID requirements won't get on planes. They will, Hasbrouck asserts here. In fact, he says, airlines are prevented by law from requiring any kind of ID.

Nonetheless, the DHS website continues to claim a photo ID is needed to pass through security checkpoints. Hasbrouck has his suspicions about the motives for such statements.

"The most obvious explanation is that they want to use the implied (but legally and factually empty) threat of denial of air travel to intimidate states into 'voluntarily' complying with the Real-ID Act and its rules," he writes. ®

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