Institutional shortcomings in a post-9/11 United States

Amidst the “Muslim Ban” of the Trump administration, this will seem drastically more insignificant. In fact, it is, but simultaneously it is a fascinating case that provides a glimpse of the identification/security infrastructures in a post 9/11 United States. Enter the REAL ID Act of 2005 and its subsequent ramifications.

In the United States, individual states have long been in charge of issuing their own driver’s licenses which US citizens are permitted to use as official government documents when flying. This exemplifies the separation between the federal and the state governments, but it also shows how they are intertwined–the Federal government must permit the use of the state’s official license for the individual to travel. A standard hierarchy in government it seems.

However, the REAL ID act imposed a set of federal standards that states must comply with when issuing drivers licenses. The information required to get a drivers license, what must be included on the ID, and those who have access to that information are all mandated under this new law. But what happens if you don’t comply? Well, on January 22nd, 2018 those states that have not complied with these new standards (of which there are 5) will see their constituents lose the ability to fly without a different form of identification.

The various intersections that are created with this restriction are vast. The easy target is what Amoore (2006) alluded to in her discussion on biometric borders when she said we’ve begun to “politicize the site of identity as a target for the war on terror” (344). In this instance this could not ring more true: the act was a direct result of the 9/11 attacks. Those attacks reified an old tune in the US that the largest threats to the country were those on systems vulnerability, as expounded upon by Collier & Lakoff (2008). One can clearly see that the identification system was seen as a flaw and thus deemed a threat in this new normal.

So with this act and subsequent enforcement has come a need to “question the new normal way of living” (Amoore 347). Is it okay for the federal government to restrict the freedom and mobility of citizens who have gone through all the correct channels to receive a identification card, but are faulted by the state level of government? In an act that was supposed to provide greater security and well-being for the people, it seems as if it has impinged upon their lives. With the Snowden revelations, people are becoming more and more suspect of having their information compiled into a federal database–something that this act seeks to do. However, it does it in the name of privacy and national security does it not?

In what Deleuze (1992) has deemed ‘societies of control’ there is now a “crisis of institutions–the progressive and dispersed installation of a new system of domination”. It seems as if this could be applied in one way or another to the situation at hand. While the states will ultimately comply with these federal regulations and the public will be none-the-wiser, it is a sobering reminder that while we may think we are individuals we are in fact ‘dividuals’.


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