The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has conceded in its battle with state officials to implement secure state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards as part of the REAL ID Act of 2005.
DHS recently announced plans for a 73 percent reduction in the cost of putting the identification system in place, and an $80-million grant to assist in the procedure. The reduction brings costs down from an original estimate of $14.6 billion to $3.9 billion.
The REAL ID laws were a top a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission after investigators found that the hijackers had obtained 17 driver’s licenses and 13 state-issued identification cards in the process of carrying out terrorist actions.
“Terrorists take advantage of the system being blind,” said Janice Kephart, President of 9/11 Security Solutions.
The new act is an effort to keep licenses out of the hands of terrorists, illegal workers, and identity thieves. With the new identification standards, people will not be able to enter federal buildings, board airplanes, or open bank accounts without presenting identification that has met certain security standards. All documents will be checked with the agencies that issued them, and the new laws will require states to check social security numbers and legal status for fraud.
“This is going to make three groups of people unhappy: terrorists, illegal workers, con men and criminals,” said Stewart A. Baker, the Assistant Secretary for Policy at the DHS.
The new laws are making others unhappy as well. Because the REAL ID Act does not institute a national identification card, it is left to the states to enforce the new standards. This leaves a large financial burden on state governments.
“While the federal government dictates responsibilities for what has traditionally been a state function—and adding layers of bureaucracy and regulation to effectively create a national identification card—there is no help in footing these hefty bills,” said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) at a Judiciary Committee hearing May 8, 2007.
More than 30 states have taken up bills and resolutions opposing the law and asking Congress to repeal it, or fully fund the mandate. As a result, the deadline for implementation has been pushed back twice.
“Further postponing implementation will only encourage states to avoid making the investments needed to implement the law,” James Carafano, the Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security at The Heritage Foundation, wrote in an Executive Memorandum. “Expecting the federal government to foot the bill for states that continually fail to provide their citizens secure IDs is wrong.”
Congress hopes that with the reduction in costs, states will be able to upgrade their license systems by December of 2009. If states do not comply, their citizens will not be able to use their IDs in certain situations, according to Secretary Baker.
Baker asserted that the Act will not infringe on civil liberties. He confronted privacy concerns by stating that REAL ID will not allow the federal government to gain more access to personal information, and will not create a national database of personal information. Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of Homeland Security recently addressed privacy concerns for REAL ID in a speech at George Washington University.
“Is this somehow an invasion of privacy?” Chertoff rhetorically asked, answering his own question with two more questions. “Do you feel your privacy is better protected if someone can walk around with phony documents, with your name and your number? Or is your privacy better protected if you have the confidence that the identification relied upon is, in fact, secure and reliable, and uniquely tied to a single individual?”