CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Sunday, June 3, 2007

REAL ID is Causing an Uproar Among States

From REAL ID has just about every state, including Colorado, up in arms. It’s not that states dispute the need for a more secure license. They are well aware that numerous institutions rely on licenses as identity documents. Their beef is with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its proposed rules for closing security holes using the state licensing process. The DHS rules, which finally surfaced this past March, ask the states to take on an immensely difficult task — some say an impossible one — and to pay for the privilege of doing it.

There are rumblings in Congress about repealing the law. But as things now stand, the proposed DHS regulations for a new or renewed license call for all drivers to go to a DMV office in person and show original identity documents. DMV employees will have to verify those documents — birth certificates, Social Security numbers or other credentials. An impact analysis done jointly by associations of state legislators, governors and motor vehicle administrators figure that REAL ID requirements will more than double the workload of motor vehicle offices.

Estimates on the cost of the program are even more daunting. The National Governors Association figures states are likely to spend at least $11 billion of their own money over the next five years to get REAL ID up and running. The largest contributing factor is the more than 2.1 million hours of computer programming states will need to adapt their systems for new requirements for things such as eligibility verification and database design.

Several states have been outspoken about their misgivings over the likely problems. “If we had all the money right now, it couldn’t get done in 10 years,” says Matthew Dunlap, Maine’s secretary of state. “This is bigger than the space program.”

It’s also a lot touchier, raising as it does politically sensitive privacy issues. To make REAL ID work nationwide, it would have to be supported by a variety of databases and that raises alarms for civil liberties groups over control of personal information. Although DHS claims that REAL ID does not establish a national database of driver information and that states will collect and store information just as they do today, that hasn’t eased concerns. DHS’s proposed rules, says state Representative Scott Lansley of Maine, “didn’t do much for me in calming my fears about Big Brother stepping in and overstepping bounds.”

Given those concerns, states have a decision to make: to comply or not to comply. REAL ID is not a mandate. It is voluntary. States can opt in or opt out. If they opt in, they would have to scramble to meet REAL ID’s tight and looming deadlines. The first implementations are scheduled to go into effect in May 2008. States such as Colorado and Virginia are preparing themselves for that deadline. States that opt in but aren’t ready to meet the 2008 deadline can request an extension, as most states likely will, but it may not make compliance any easier in the long run.

If states decide to opt out — as Montana and Washington have done — it could create major inconveniences for their residents, who would not be able to use their driver’s licenses to board planes or enter secure federal facilities. An opt-out could also shatter the federal government’s plans for how REAL ID will work. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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