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Privacy, Costs May Be Death of Real ID Act

Thursday, 08 Jan 2009 08:24 AM

By Dave Eberhart

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Long plagued by cost and privacy concerns, the intrusive Real ID effort to mandate secure national identification cards for Americans could be on its last legs.

With his nomination of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to run the Department of Homeland Security, the agency tasked with implementing Real ID, President-elect Barack Obama may have signed the controversial program’s death warrant. As governor, Napolitano has been a vocal opponent of Real ID and she signed a bill barring her state from implementing the Act

Napolitano said she signed the bill into law because a lack of adequate federal funding makes Real ID “just another unfunded federal mandate,” according to an Associated Press report.

“My support of the Real ID Act is, and has always been, contingent upon adequate federal funding,” Napolitano said this past summer.

Napolitano is not alone. The National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Governors Association were equally unhappy - noting that the federal government had not moved effectively to offset the cost to states.

In May of 2008, former vice-presidential candidate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, returned a bill to the legislature that would prevent the state from funding implementation of the Real ID Act.

By neither signing nor vetoing the bill 20 days after overwhelming passage in the legislature, Governor Palin allowed the bill to become law, effective August of 2008, noted a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“Alaska has joined a growing nationwide movement against Real ID, and by allowing this legislation to become law, Governor Palin has made Alaska the 9th state to pass a law prohibiting compliance,” said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU Technology and Liberty Program.

A National Conference of State Legislatures databank on Real ID legislation indicates that currently at least 11 other states have approved legislation to bar implementation of Real ID. States listed as rejecting Real ID, some with conditions, include Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington.

If Napolitano and Palin’s less than warm embrace of Real ID has implications for the Act’s future, the President-elect also has a spotty record on the volatile issue. In his one-and-only opportunity while in the Senate to vote on an issue related to the Real ID Act, Barack Obama chose not to cast his ballot, according to a report in About.com.

Virginians Move Against Act

Meanwhile, a coalition of 10 organizations from across Virginia will rally at the Virginia State Capital Bell Tower in Richmond in support of legislation to stop the implementation of Real ID Act of 2005.

Slated for January 21, 2009, the rally is just the latest episode in a history of nationwide resistance to the Federal act, the implementation of which had been moved back 20 months - from May 11, 2008 to December 31, 2009 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“At least three pieces of legislation are being introduced in the 2009 session of the Virginia General Assembly to stop the implementation of the federal mandate to come into compliance with the Real ID Act by the beginning of next year,” says Donna Holt, interim asst. state coordinator of the Campaign for Liberty, which is sponsoring the rally.

“Similar legislation went nowhere last year, but lobbying efforts will gain momentum as grassroots organizations take the news of the bills to the districts across the state. We are certain to shake things up in local politics with upcoming state elections on the horizon,” Holt added.

The Real ID Act implements security features to drivers and identification cards. These standards must be met to allow the card holder to board planes, enter federal buildings and nuclear power plants.

To comply, states would have to adjust the documentation that they accept for issuing drivers’ licenses and IDs, including verifying lawful presence in the country. They would also have to maintain databases of driver information, including copies of the documentation submitted by state residents - and make that information available nationwide.

“Raising the security standards on driver’s licenses establishes another layer of protection to prevent terrorists from obtaining and using fake documents to plan or carry out an attack,” has been the refrain of DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.

“These standards correct glaring vulnerabilities exploited by some of the 9/11 hijackers who used fraudulently obtained drivers licenses to board the airplanes in their attack against America,” Chertoff maintains.

DHS notes that up to 20 percent of a state’s Homeland Security Grant Program funds can be used to help implement Real ID.

The states have until Dec. 31, 2009 to prove that their driver’s license or ID card issuance systems are capable of verifying the lawful status of all applicants to prevent illegal aliens from obtaining REAL ID-compliant licenses.

However, under current regulations, full implementation of Real ID for all persons under 50 years of age is to be completed by Dec. 1, 2014, with all people enrolled by Dec. 1, 2017.

While many states have made significant strides to date, full compliance has been estimated to eventually cost the states from $11 billion to as much as $17 billion, according to DHS. But with states wrestling with budget shortfalls in these hard economic times, the bill looks bigger every day.

For instance, it has been estimated that compliance with Real ID could cost cash-strapped California up to $700 million.

Whether or not the new administration ever allows the Act to simply fade away, the Campaign for Liberty wants to play it safe and drive a stake through its heart.

“Leaders of the opposition consider the REAL ID Act of 2005 to be a bad law passed under false pretenses,” says Holt. “It was rejected three separate times by the U.S. Senate, and was only passed because it was buried in a larger bill containing disaster relief and funding for Iraq military operations. The Senate didn’t want it, and the American people don’t want it either. But the majority leadership in Congress imposed it on us, and so now we have to fight to get it stopped in Virginia.”

According to a Campaign for Liberty press release, opponents fear the creation of a centralized federal database containing personal information about all Americans.

There are concerns with regard to security of the citizen’s personal information due to the number of databases that would be storing personal information by the federal government and shared between the states across the country as part of standard procedure within motor vehicle administrations in the states, and as enabled by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

“Neither the Federal Government nor the states can control access, which under international law includes data sharing even with Canada and Mexico,” says Holt. “No one can know who is getting into those data bases and for what purpose.”

Many states are concerned about longer lines, higher fees and fewer DMV centers because they will have to meet tough new security standards. Civil rights advocates wonder about people who do not have birth certificates or other identification to get a Real ID license.

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