States' rebellion against Real ID grows

An $11 billion price tag and fundamental privacy and security fears are leading state legislatures to protest the Real ID tag. In Washington, Congress may change the law to keep Congress out of state duties like issuing driver's licenses.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor
A battle royal between the states and the federal Department of Homeland Security is gathering steam. The revolt is over the Real ID Act, which would require states to issue new high-tech driver's licenses but provides no funds for the expensive makeover. The revolt started in Maine, but about a dozen states are taking some form of legislative action against the law, the AP reports.

The rebellious states include Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming, and now New Mexico.

In Santa Fe, a memorial opposing the Real ID Act sponsored by House Majority Leader Ken Martinez has cleared the House and is pending in the Senate.

"There seems to be universal disdain, no matter where you sit on the political spectrum, for the federal law that requires states to implement the Real ID Act through their motor vehicle departments," said Martinez, a Grants Democrat.

And the opposition is not purely on financial grounds, although that is a huge part of it.

"It's the whole privacy thing," said Matt Sundeen, a transportation analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "A lot of legislators are concerned about privacy issues and the cost. It's an estimated $11 billion implementation cost."

One of the key opponents is Missouri state Rep. James Guest, a Republican, who formed a coalition of lawmakers from 34 states to file bills that oppose or protest Real ID.

"This is almost a frontal assault on the freedoms of America when they require us to carry a national ID to monitor where we are," Guest said Saturday. "That's going too far."

Guest proposed a resolution last week opposing Real ID and said he expects it quickly to pass the Legislature. "This does nothing to stop terrorism," he said. "Don't burden the American people with this requirement to carry this ID."

Many of the state resolutions are non-binding. It's tough for legislators to swallow the sanctions that come with not obeying the law. But with a political seachange in Washington and a Democratic Congress, a change may come at the federal level.

Republican Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire, along with Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, filed a bill last year to repeal the law. Sununu expects similar legislation will be introduced soon. "The federal government should not be in charge of defining and issuing drivers' licenses," Sununu said in a statement.

Rather than making Americans safer, some privacy advocates believe, the law fundamentally compromises security.

Barry Steinhardt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Real ID ordered by Congress would require a digital photo and probably a fingerprint on each driver's license or state-issued ID card. That, he said, will make it more valuable to identity thieves because the ID card will be accepted as much more than a driving credential.

"It's going to be a honey pot out there that's going to be irresistible to identity thieves," Steinhardt said. "The victim is never going to be able to undo this," Steinhardt said.

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