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."