WASHINGTON — Six state legislatures are defying a federal law requiring new driver's licenses that aim to prevent identity theft, fraud and terrorism.
The states have passed laws in the past two months, saying the federal law has a steep cost and invades privacy by requiring 240 million Americans to get highly secure licenses by 2013. The 9/11 Commission urged the first standards for licenses to stop fraud and terrorists such as the Sept. 11 hijackers, who lied on residency statements to get licenses and state IDs.
Lawmakers in Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Washington say new standards would be expensive to implement and result in a national ID card that compromises privacy. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that it will cost states more than $11 billion.
State resistance has drawn criticism from the Homeland Security Department. "I cannot imagine a state official anywhere that would want to have to testify before Congress about … how their non-compliant licenses contributed to a terrorist attack," department spokesman Russ Knocke said.
Knocke said the federal government can't force states to comply. But he said each state's residents are likely to bring pressure on their local governments when they learn they'll be barred from boarding airplanes because their state's licenses don't meet federal standards.
Airline passengers can use other government photo identification, such as passports and military IDs.
Some lawmakers say any inconvenience is outweighed by the cost and potential privacy invasion for each state to create a photo database of license holders.
"The people of New Hampshire are adamantly opposed to any kind of 'papers-please' society reminiscent of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia," said Neal Kurk, a Republican state representative from New Hampshire. "This is another effort of the federal government to keep track of all its citizens."
The federal law requires everyone to renew licenses by 2013 with documents showing their Social Security number and home address, and that they are in the USA legally. State Sen. Larry Martin, a Republican from South Carolina, said the law will overwhelm states by requiring agencies to verify documents such as birth certificates.
The defiance by six states could force Congress to reconsider the law, said Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union. "You can't have a national ID card if the residents of six states won't have one," Steinhardt said.