Real ID Opposition Sparks Revisions To National Driver’s License Standard

Real ID opposition sparks revisions to national driver's license standard
Pass ID drops controversial proposals, but not all think law's revision went far enough

By Jaikumar Vijayan
Computerworld, June 15, 2009

Widespread opposition to a 2005 bill designed to create a national standard for driver's licenses has prompted a revised version of the bill that no longer contains its most controversial provisions.

The proposed revision is called the 'Providing for Additional Security in States' Identification' Act of 2009, or Pass ID Act, and was introduced in the U.S. Senate late on Monday by Senators Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Max Baucus (D-MT) and Thomas Carper (D-DE).

The bill is a revised version of the Real ID Act of 2005, which was signed into law by then President Bush but the implementation of which has almost stopped amid cost concerns and fears that it could end up becoming a de facto national ID card.

Like Real ID, the proposed Pass ID is designed to give states a set of minimum standards they are required to follow when issuing driver's licenses. These include the need for issuing agencies to ensure that all individuals applying for a license have credentials that establish their identity, age, principle residence, their U.S. citizenship or their proper legal status in the country.

Pass ID requires states to establish processes for vetting the credentials presented by individuals applying for licenses, and to periodically check the legal status of individuals who have been issued licenses but are not U.S. citizens.

The proposed bill, like Real ID, requires state driver's license agencies to store digital photos of individuals to whom driver's licenses have been issued, as well as digital copies or paper copies of all supporting documents. As with Real ID, a license that is compliant with Pass ID will be machine-readable and will eventually be required for individuals to board commercial aircraft, or federal facilities such as those associated with defense or national security.

Controversial aspects cut

Pass ID also seeks to repeal some of the most controversial aspects of the Real ID bill. For instance, the proposed bill would strictly limit the official purposes for which a Pass ID credential would be required, compared with Real ID, for which no such restrictions existed. It also eliminates the requirement that all state driver's license databases be linked to each other, and that each state allow their databases to be electronically accessible by other states.

Under Pass ID states will no longer be required to authenticate birth certificates, Social Security numbers or other credentials with the issuing authority and instead are only required to 'validate' them. States will also not be charged for tapping the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) databases to verify the immigration status of an individual as they would have been under Real ID.

In addition, Pass ID seeks to limit the kind of information that a license-issuing agency should include in the machine readable portion of the license, and the purposes for which that data can be used. States will be prohibited from including Social Security numbers in the machine readable zone of a license, whereas previously there were no such limitations. Importantly, the proposed bill also requires new privacy and security safeguards for personally identifiable data.

The changes come amid a virtual rebellion by states over the implementation of Real ID, which was signed into law in conformance with the recommendations of the 9/11 commission on terrorism. So far, more than two dozen states have passed measures either rejecting or opposing the Real ID mandate including Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Washington.

Last month, Oregon lawmakers joined the rebellion, approving a bill that would prohibit agencies from spending state money to implement the requirements of the Real ID Act unless the federal government reimbursed them. The bill would also prevent the state's Department of Transportation from implementing requirements of the Real ID Act unless it can demonstrate specific security controls for protecting license data.

Such protests have stemmed from what many states say is the unreasonable cost burdens of Real ID with its increased documentation, identity verification, data storage and database linking requirements.

Privacy, data security concerns

Privacy and civil rights advocates have blasted Real ID and said that it would result in the creation of a de facto national ID card that could be used to track and snoop on individuals. They have warned that the proposal to link state driver's licenses databases together would greatly increase the potential for data compromise and data theft.

As a result of such concerns, the DHS, which is the agency in charge of implementing Real ID has been pushing back compliance deadlines. After stating earlier that individuals with standard state-issued licenses would not be able to board commercial aircraft starting May 2008, the DHS now says state licenses will be acceptable as identification by federal agencies until December 2014. Individuals age 50 or older will not have to show Real ID cards until December 2017.

Today's proposed bill has received a decidedly mixed response so far. The Center for Democracy and Technology, (CDT), which in the past has expressed concern over the privacy and civil rights implications of Real ID, today welcomed the proposed legislation.

'We think it addresses the main privacy issues we had with Real ID,' said Ari Schwartz, executive director of the Washington-based think tank. The removal of the database linking provision, the proposal to limit the official purposes for which the card would be needed and the changes relating to the machine readable data are all good steps, Schwartz said.

The changes effectively counter the likelihood of the card being used for tracking people, while also meeting the 9/11 commission's recommendations, he said. The decision to revise Real ID rather than repeal it altogether as some have called for is a good step, Schwartz said. 'We think this was a pragmatic approach,' he said.

But Janice Kephart, director of national security policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, blasted Pass ID, saying it would do nothing to improve security. 'It is in fact a dumbing down of ID verification [practices],' Kephart said. 'I would call in a Pass on anything ID Act.'

'It would not conform at all to the 9/11 commission standard and would help terrorists get on airplanes,' she said. The proposed legislation will only introduce confusion, give states money without accountability, roll back airport security and eliminate information sharing between states, she said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has been an ardent critic of Real ID, today expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed bill. It said in a statement that while Pass ID included some welcome privacy protections, the legislation 'could ultimately resurrect the discredited Real ID Act and become the basis for a National ID.'

The statement pointed to the widespread opposition to Real ID in many states and said the law should have been repealed rather than 'fixed.'


Senate offers new plan to secure driver's licenses
By Eileen Sullivan
The Associated Press, June 15, 2009

The Senate wants to replace a Bush administration program to secure driver's licenses with a plan that would cost states less money a plan that some say is a relaxation of the post-9/11 rules.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the new plan, which was introduced Monday, would refine the current Real ID program, but would not gut the security requirements of the law, passed in 2005 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

'It is a recognition that Real ID, as originally passed, is simply not being put in place by the states,' Napolitano said Monday.

The National Governors Association helped write the new proposal. As Arizona governor, Napolitano said the Bush administration did not collaborate enough with governors in the development of the congressionally mandated program. The association said the current law would cost states $4 billion while the new plan could cut the costs to between $1.3 billion and $2 billion, the association's spokeswoman said.

The 2001 attacks were the main motivation for the original law. The hijacker-pilot who flew into the Pentagon, Hani Hanjour, had four driver's licenses and ID cards from three states.

'It's a very substantial relaxation' of the current law, said Stewart Baker, a former senior official at the Homeland Security Department. 'It keeps the idea of standards that will improve security, but it eliminates some substantial requirements.'

Real ID-compliant driver's licenses have several layers of security features to prevent forgery, such as verification of birth certificates, Social Security numbers and immigration status. Unless the current law is changed, people would need a driver's license that meets the Real ID standards to board an airplane.

But the proposed plan would not mandate that people need these licenses to board planes; and it would exempt the address from being included on licenses belonging to domestic violence victims or people in witness protection programs. It would also not require that birth certificates be confirmed with the agency that issued them.

This could mean that a person could use a fake birth certificate to get a driver's license, and it eliminates the ability to check electronically with other states to see if a person applying for a license already has one in another state, Baker said.

The Bush administration said Real ID would hinder terrorists, con artists and illegal immigrants. Opponents said it will cost too much and weaken privacy protections.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said the new proposal would bring the country back to pre-9/11 standards.

'She's dead wrong on this issue,' Sensenbrenner said of Napolitano.

Sensenbrenner points to the 9/11 Commission Report which called for a secure driver's license.

According to the commission report, 'For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.'

'It's pure appearance of security, it's not real security,' said Janice Kephart, an expert on travel document security who worked on the 9/11 Commission report.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, the lead sponsor of the bill, said the new proposal does exactly what the 9/11 Commission recommended:

'It sets strong security standards for the issuance of identification cards and driver's licenses,' the Hawaii Democrat said in a statement.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CIS analysis of the PASS ID bill is available online at: