‘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.

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