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.

"There's no doubt about it. The states carry the heavy burden here. Essentially they're turned into the investigative arm of the federal government to ensure [that] people are who they say they are, and the burden is in the billions of dollars," Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland School of Law. "The federal government today is announcing that the burden has been reduced, but the states are getting pennies on the dollar for the obligations they have to fulfill this. It's a clear cut unfunded mandate."

The new guidelines quickly sparked criticism from a top Democrat on Capitol Hill, even before they were officially announced.

"It is unfortunate that instead of addressing the fundamental problems this law poses for the states, the [Bush] administration appears content merely to prolong a contentious and unproductive battle to force the states to comply," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement this morning.

"Rather than improved security, this course will result in resentment, litigation and enormous costs that states will be forced to absorb."

But Chertoff contends the new plan is the product of listening to stakeholders' concerns and much careful consideration.

"But I will also say there comes a point in time that all the discussion and analysis has to stop. We are now over six years from 9/11. We live every day with the problems of false identification."

Chertoff went on to say, "The time has come to bite the bullet and get the kind of secure identification I am convinced the American public wants to have."

But according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, legislative bodies in 21 states have passed legislation opposing Real ID, and six states prohibit compliance with the plan by statute.

Fifteen states' lawmaking entities passed resolutions urging Congress to amend or repeal Real ID or otherwise indicated the state's intention of noncompliance with the program.

In contrast, Indiana and Nevada have passed bills that move those states toward compliance with Real ID. Three other states have made budgetary moves to ease the implementation of the plan, the conference found.

"The administration would do much better to treat the states as partners, and forego the paternalistic mandates that the American people are rejecting," Leahy's statement stated.

But financial burden and disagreements with the states aside, Greenberger also echoed the concerns of many privacy groups.

"The key question is that the states are going to have to create massive databases, use massive databases, and are these databases going to be secure?" he said. "The track record on the security of these databases is not good. They are hacked into on a regular basis."

Chertoff said today that states won't have to collect any information that they don't already gather during the license application process and that the data won't wind up in a national database.

"We are not going to wind up making this information available willy-nilly," he said. "In fact, the steps we are taking under Real ID will enhance and protect privacy rather than degrade and impair privacy."

Chertoff went on to ask, "What is the privacy argument for making it easy to forge that identification, or to impersonate somebody, or to lie about who you really are?"

"I'm frankly still waiting to hear the ACLU or somebody else get up and explain why we're better off as a society if when someone presents a license to get on an airplane, they can pretend to be somebody else, or they can lie about their identity," he said.

The secretary went on to add that the program gives local DMV offices further defense so they don't "become victimized by people who try to get phony driver's licenses."

As for those DMV offices, wait times are expected to increase. An impact analysis by the National Governors Association from 2006 noted, "To comply with the requirement that all [driver's licenses/identification] card holders reverify their identity with the state, individuals must gather and present all their identification documents, which may more than double the length of time they spend at their DMVs."

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