States push back on mandated ID

Published 9 May 2006

The Real ID Act of May 2005 gives states 3 years to incorporate biometric information and RFID technology into the driver’s licenses they issue; states say the deadline is too short and the costs too high

Last May Congress passed the Real ID law, intending to make it tougher for terrorists to obtain driver’s licenses and for people without proper identification to board planes or enter federal buildings. The deadline for states to comply is still two years away, but many are increasingly frustrated with law. Officials in many states say the law — which requires states to use sources such as birth certificates and a national immigration database to verify that people applying for or renewing driver’s licenses are American citizens or legal residents — will be too expensive and difficult to put in place by the May 2008 deadline. Another issue is the privacy impact of the requirement that states share, through databases, the personal information needed for a driver’s license.

It’s absolutely absurd,” said Arkansas Republican governor Mike Huckabee, who is chairman of the National Governors Association. “The time frame is unrealistic; the lack of funding is inexcusable.” Another concern, Huckabee said, is “whether this is a role that you really want to turn over to an entry-level, front-line, desk person at the D.M.V …. If we’re at a point that we need a national ID card, then let’s do that,” he said. “But let’s not act like we’re addressing this at a federal level and then blame the states if they mess it up. There’s not a governor in America that wants that responsibility.”

Cost is a major issue. In Virginia, a governor’s commission said that “Congress must further act” to strengthen Real ID’s privacy protections, limit paperwork, and increase financing. It said Virginia’s start-up costs could be up to $169 million, with annual costs of up to $63 million. That compares with $40 million in federal money allocated for all states combined, said Jarrod Agen, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.