Friday, January 11, 2008

Feds look for wiggle room on Real ID

The Department of Homeland Security has pushed back deadlines that states must meet in order to comply with the federal "Real ID" scheme to convert state-issued driver's licenses and IDs into by-any-other-name national identification cards. According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center:

The REAL ID Act of 2005 creates a de facto national identification card. Ostensibly voluntary, it would become mandatory as those without the card would face suspicion and increased scrutiny. It is a law imposing federal technological standards and verification procedures on state driver's licenses and identification cards, many of which are beyond the current capacity of the federal government, and mandating state compliance by May 2008. In fact, REAL ID turns state DMV workers into federal immigration officials, as they must verify the citizenship status of all those who want a REAL ID-approved state driver's license or identification cards. State DMVs would far move away from their core mission -- to license drivers.

REAL ID was appended to a bill providing tsunami relief and military appropriations, and passed with little debate and no hearings. The REAL ID Act repealed provisions in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which contained "carefully crafted language -- bipartisan language -- to establish standards for States issuing driver's licenses," according to Sen. Richard Durbin. After more than two years, the Department of Homeland Security issued draft regulations for state compliance on March 1, 2007.

The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates (pdf) that that the cost to the states will be more than $11 billion over five years. This is more than 100 times the $100 million cost that Congress initially estimated. For 2006, $40 million was allocated for start-up costs. No more funding has been allocated, and it is likely that the cost will be shouldered by the public. The Department of Homeland Security has estimated that REAL ID will cost $23.1 billion over 10 years.

Many states have been resistant to the plan because of the expensive unfunded federal mandate it represents and also because of the potential threat it represents to privacy. The deadline delay would reduce short-term costs to a claimed $3.9 billion (still far above initial estimates), helping to defuse opposition, and give the feds more time to strong-arm state officials into submission.

Technically, states can't be forced to adopt federal standards or connect their license databases to a federally controlled network, but driver's licenses issued by states that don't comply will no longer be accepted as valid ID for federal purposes after the new deadline of December 2014. The residents of holdout states wouldn't even be able to board commercial airliners.

Unless ... enough states refuse to turn their driver's licenses into tools of a security state. New Hampshire is among the states that have flat-out refused to go along with Real ID, as have Maine, Idaho, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Washington. Other states have condemned the law without explicitly refusing to abide by its requirements. If enough of the population lives in places that issue non-compliant driver's licenses, it's going to be very difficult for the feds to carry out their threat to bar millions of people from federal offices and airports.

Which, no doubt, is a big part of the reason that the deadline has been allowed to slip a few years. That's plenty of time to fight behind the scenes -- or to allow the whole offensive ID of Real ID to die a quiet death on somebody else's watch.



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