States Resist REAL ID Implementation

Published February 1, 2008

With the deadline for issuing licenses that meet the criteria of the federal REAL ID Act of 2005 less than three months away, it appears few if any states are prepared to issue compliant licenses by then.

Seventeen states have passed legislation that specifically prevents them from complying with what many are calling a de facto “national ID” law. As of press time, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had yet to issue final REAL ID technical rules.

The REAL ID Act calls on states to issue, by May 2008, drivers’ licenses backed by federally defined proof-of-identity documents that states must authenticate. The physical licenses must incorporate common machine-readable technology, and states must store and share with every other state the information they collect on each driver.

Privacy, Cost Top Concerns

Opponents of REAL ID cite two main problems: privacy and financial issues.

For certain states, the privacy implications are paramount. “The very idea that Americans would need an i.d. card to travel around their own country is a huge privacy issue,” said New Hampshire State Rep. Joel Winters (D-Manchester).

For other states, cost issues drive opposition. “State leaders got serious about privacy when they saw the cost of REAL ID compliance,” said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute and a member of DHS’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee.

“Some states would be more likely to go along if it were paid for,” agreed Winters, though not New Hampshire. He points out his state was offered a $3 million grant to test REAL ID and turned it down.

Pushback in Congress

Congress has raised questions about the effectiveness of REAL ID. Bills calling for its repeal have been introduced in both the House and Senate, and few REAL ID opponents expect the federal government to enforce the act’s provisions come the May deadline.

REAL ID opponents want to see the act greatly altered or repealed. Simply working to delay REAL ID by extending deadlines helps support the act, said Harper, because it gives technology and security firms hoping to win lucrative REAL ID contracts more time to influence DHS and wear down states’ resistance.

Privacy advocates and some security experts say the emphasis on proof of identity mandated by REAL ID gives a false sense of security for extreme amounts of money. They hope exposing the flaws in REAL ID will result in a freer discussion of how and where to increase security effectively.

“The cost of the REAL ID Act in dollars and in lost privacy is greater than the security benefit,” said Harper.

Winters agreed. “REAL ID does more harm than good.”

Sharon J. Watson ([email protected]) writes from Sugar Land, Texas.

For more information …

Jim Harper, “The REAL ID Act: An Update,” Cato Institute TechKnowledge, Issue #107, October 8, 2007:

Col. Timothy D. Ringgold, “The Real Deal,” Security Products, October 2007: