REAL ID Deadline Evaporates Under Pressure

Under pressure from governors and civil liberties groups, the Bush administration Thursday gave states another year and a half to comply with the REAL ID Act, the controversial 2005 law mandating national standards for driver’s licenses.

The original deadline for compliance was set for May 11 of next year, but Department of Homeland Security (DHS) only issued compliance guidelines yesterday. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said he was extending the deadline to Dec. 31, 2009, because of the delay in publishing the guidelines.

The DHS also said it would re-establish a rulemaking committee originally created to allow states and other interested parties to have an official role in the process.

“Because we’ve had a lot of extensive consultation in preparing this rule, whether it be with motor vehicle officials or governors or members of Congress, we know that a number of states are going to have difficulty meeting the deadline,” Chertoff said at a press conference.

Supporters claim the law will make it more difficult for terrorists and other criminals to obtain driver’s licenses fraudulently and make it easier for law enforcement authorities to detect documents that have already been falsified. But it has been widely criticized by states as prohibitively expensive and civil liberties organizations as the first step to a national ID card.

The law has also been slammed privacy and security grounds.

“The Real ID Act is the marriage from hell — these regulations marry the efficiency of those who ran the Katrina recovery with the people who brought you long lines at the DMV,” Timothy D. Sparapani, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legislative counsel member, said in a statement. “REAL ID creates huge burdens for Americans, places a massive unfunded mandate on state governments and fails to provide real security.”

The REAL ID Act requires states to standardize information contained on driver’s licenses and to maintain databases of the information that can be shared with other states. To provide proof of date of birth and legal status, applicants will be required to present passports, birth certificates or permanent resident cards.

To provide proof of Social Security numbers, applicants will need a Social Security card or some other valid document such as a W-2 form. For proof of address, documents like utility bills can be no older than a year.

Under the law, states motor vehicle agencies are required to scan all documents into a database.

In January, Maine passed a resolution rejecting participation in the law. Similar measures have introduced or are pending in 22 other states. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) led the extension negotiations with the DHS.

“This is a significant progress. The [DHS] has finally recognized that it was simply unfair to impose this burden on the states to set such an unrealistic compliance date when the department had failed to issue the regulations,” Collins said in a statement.

“These two major concessions — the extension for compliance and the reconvening of the negotiated rulemaking committee — are major steps forward. But they do not solve all of the issues and all of the problems with the REAL ID Act, the biggest of which is the huge cost of compliance.”

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) has introduced legislation to repeal the law.

“I support the goal of making our identification cards and driver’s licenses more secure, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission,” he said at a Thursday press conference. “However, the massive amounts of personal information that would be stored in interconnected databases, as well as on the card, could provide one-stop shopping for identity thieves.”

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a longtime critic of the law, is concerned that the law will result in the creation of a linked network of government databases of personal information without standards or limits on access and use.

“The Act itself never mentions privacy once,” the CDT’s Sophia Cope told “There’s a whole swath of personal information that will be scanned in the databases. The databases are open to security breaches and abuses. That’s not good for ID theft or national security.”

The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), by contract, supports the law, contending technology can deal with the privacy and security concerns.

“REAL ID needs to be a real priority,” ITAA President and CEO Phil Bond said in a statement. “There are proven identity management technologies available that can help federal and state agencies create secure credentials and protect personal privacy. There is no reason to derail this process.”

Chertoff also defended the privacy and security of the law, claiming the “standards actually promote personal privacy because we all know that stolen and phony driver’s licenses are a powerful tool in the hands of identity thieves, and that affects the personal privacy of every single American.”

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