RealTime IT News

'Real ID' Under Fire

Groups and privacy advocates in the U.S. are considering legal action against a bill headed for the White House that would create a national driver's license.

On Thursday, President Bush is expected to sign the so-called Real ID Act into law as part of an $82 billion request for additional troop funding in Iraq, as well as tsunami victim relief. The Senate Tuesday unanimously passed the supplemental appropriations bill, which included provisions for what amounts to a national ID card. States would need to complete the ID card scheme by 2008 if the president signs the bill.

About 600 different organizations are opposed to the measure, including the American Civil Liberties Union, National Association of Evangelicals, American Library Association, Association for Computing Machinery, and American Immigration Lawyers Association. Privacy advocates assert the bill requires state DMVs to collect sensitive personal information.

"We are exploring the potential options and the implications of the Real ID Act and are considering our legislative, regulatory and litigation options at this time," Tim Sparapani, a legislative council for privacy rights with the ACLU, told internetnews.com.

Sparapani said one angle the ACLU may explore is that there was no public hearing or debate on the national ID plan, because Congress usually doesn't typically legislate or change policy on an appropriations bill.

"Part of what happened here was that the Republican House members stuck Real ID on a bill and crafted a strategy that were any debate in the House or Senate on the bill would be passed over," he said. "Besides, no politician wanted to come out against sending more money to help the troops in Iraq or sending more aid for tsunami relief. That would be a political landmine."

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Governors Association have also voiced opposition to the controversial Real ID Act, saying the legislation forces the states to foot the bill for federal identification standards.

Early estimates suggest that the cost to the states of complying with Real ID will be $120 million.

"This will apply to anyone who applies or renews a driver's license," Michael Bird, a spokesman with the National Conference of State Legislatures, told internetnews.com. "This was inserted into the main bill to appease the immigration problems that the 9/11 Commission recommended only five months ago. But it includes preemption mandates and is just plain wrong."

Bird said Real ID is also frustrating because several state and motor vehicle agencies were already working on the problem of how to coordinate driver's license information. He said the groups were a mere six to eight months away from a solution.

Wisconsin Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner, who drafted the bill, said the states would be able to maintain their own identification databases but would need to keep them updated regularly and accessible to other state and federal agencies.

Sensenbrenner said the licenses could serve as identification for federal purposes, such as boarding a commercial airplane, entering a federal building or a nuclear power plant.

"This sensible legislation is aimed at preventing another 9/11-type attack by disrupting terrorist travel and bolstering our border security," Sensenbrenner said as part of the original draft.

Bill O'Reilly, whose Coalition for a Secure Driver's License also supports the Real ID Act, said until each state complies, every state remains at risk.

"Driver's licenses issued in any state open doors in every state. We have already learned that lesson," he said.

National ID cards have long been advocated as a way to enhance national security, fight terrorists and guard against illegal immigrants. But there has been renewed interest in the creation of national ID cards since 9/11. Even Oracle CEO Larry Ellison offered to donate technology for national ID card that could include digitized thumbprints.

But the federalization of driver's licenses, and the culling of all information into massive databases, creates a system ripe for identity theft, Sparapani worries.

"There will be tens of thousands of employees with access to this information at any given time," he said. "Even companies that have an interest in keeping their data secure say they can't control all of the data that they keep in-house. Poorer federal and government agencies will have little incentive to do the same because there is no financial motivation."

Bruce Schneier, founder and CTO of Counterpane Internet Security, also agrees that Real ID is a bad move.

"Real ID requires driver's licenses to include a 'common machine-readable technology.' This will, of course, make identity theft easier," Schneier said in a recent blog posting. "Assume that this information will be collected by bars and other businesses, and that it will be resold to companies like ChoicePoint and Acxiom."

Even worse, Schneier said, the same specification for RFID chips embedded in passports includes details about embedding RFID chips in driver's licenses, making it an even juicer target for thieves and terrorists.