DHS Announces New License Security Standards

If you were born after Dec. 1, 1964, be prepared to face something in addition to that long line at the Department of Motor Vehicles in the next few years: more scrutiny.

Because of 9/11 commission recommendations aimed at rooting out potential terrorists, driver's license rules and procedures will be stricter and standardized across all 50 states, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced today.

"There are three categories of people who will be very unhappy about secured driver's licenses," Chertoff said, "terrorists and people who want to get on airplanes and in federal buildings and avoid terrorist watch lists, illegal immigrants who want to work in this country by pretending to be American citizens, and con men."

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But the new plan is likely to anger many more — from states that will have to implement the costly changes to civil rights groups that say the changes will invade individuals' privacy and make them more vulnerable to identity theft.

The program, called Real ID, will require states to ask license applicants for proof of citizenship and residency, instead of the typical date of birth and Social Security number. States will also have to work together to make certain the applicants don't obtain multiple licenses, and they'll need to add security features into the license design to help stop counterfeiting.

Most individuals will be required to present Real ID-verified identification for boarding commercial airline flights, using federal facilities and entering nuclear power plants before the end of 2014.

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The department is asking that states take steps toward complying with the program by May 2008, with the first deadline set for Dec. 31, 2009. By that date, states must have upgraded license security and a system in place to verify the citizenship and residency status of all license applicants.

Those who have not reached the age of 50 — individuals born after Dec. 1, 1964 — will need a Real ID-compliant license by Dec. 1, 2014, but the program extends the deadline exactly three years for those above that age threshold.

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States that fail to meet those deadlines will put residents in a position in which they need an acceptable form of ID, such as a passport, in order to fly or enter federal buildings.

With the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers possessing a combined 364 aliases, and with 18 of those 19 hijackers carrying some form of fake identification — including 17 with phony or illegally obtained driver's licenses — Chertoff said U.S. citizens understand the need for such a program and called their wish for more stringent identity protection measures "undeniable."

As for the cost to states, the department maintains that the changes are what citizens want, and that the department will help defray the costs by issuing federal grants.

Chertoff explained today that, when extrapolated across all states, the cost of the program works out to be about $8 per license.

The Homeland Security Department says it's making approximately $360 million in grant money available to assist states with the implementation of the new guidelines, but states will need to come up with funds for the remainder of the costs.

States will ultimately bear the brunt: The new guidelines come with a hefty price tag, even after the grants — $3.9 billion total, reduced from an original projection of $14.6 billion.

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