Declan McCullagh has a detailed piece on the Real ID legislation that just passed the US House. The legislation would effectively force the States to meet certain requirements if they expect their driver's licenses to be used as IDs for federal purposes--like getting on an airplane. I've been watching for this every since I was CIO for Utah. This is a big step for the U.S. because it creates what amounts to the first national ID card system.
Opponents are quick to point out the privacy concerns--and there are plenty. Also, there is always some sensitivity to Congress creating "unfunded mandates" for the States. I have to admit, the privacy concerns scare me, but having seen the sausage being made, as it were, I also see the logic behind the action.
The identity system we use as the basis for commercial activity and the lynchpin of our national security apparatus relies, for the most part, on the driver's license. At the same time, every director of a state driver's license bureau I've ever asked has adamantly denied being in the ID business. That fundamental disconnect creates most of the issues that Congress is trying to address. If all you're doing is licensing people to drive, then you don't have to be very careful about making sure that the identity is right. After all, mostly what you're doing is certifying that a certain person (the one pictured) is allowed to drive.
If, on the other hand, you're authorizing that person to get on a commercial aircraft, enter a courthouse, and so on, you might want to be a little more careful. Many states don't even check birth certificates when issuing driver's licenses because it's nearly impossible. If you move to Utah from South Carolina, what am I supposed to do, query South Carolina's public records? Not with the system we have now.
This change is going to have other repercussions in States that we haven't even begun to see. One thing that's bound to cause problems is that the blending of ID and driving authorizations will mean that many people who really should have driver's licenses won't. For example, one of the reasons given for this bill is the fact that many states, Utah's among them, issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Why? Because they will drive anyway and they can't get insurance if they don't have a license. The level of uninsured motorists will rise because of this bill. That's a price we'll all bear. Of course, we'll all be much safer when we fly. Won't we?