Stricter Driver's License Rules May Fuel a Firestorm
As early as next week, the Department of Homeland Security could issue nearly 300 pages of controversial regulations to states to help them comply with the Real ID Act of 2005, a law designed to beef up the security of driver's licenses.
The regulations are sure to set off a firestorm of protest from many of the nation's governors and civil liberties groups. Many governors view the law as a multibillion-dollar unfunded mandate and are pressing Congress and DHS for federal funds and additional time to implement it.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union says it's concerned about privacy issues and the ability of the DHS and state DMVs to implement the law without violating civil liberties.
"You put DHS and DMV together, and it's like a marriage made in hell," says Timothy Sparapani, legislative counsel for the ACLU in Washington. "You're bringing together the people responsible for Katrina and long lines."
As soon as the regulations are issued, the ACLU will put out a 10-page checklist or "score card" for Congress and states to help evaluate the regulations, Sparapani says. DHS press secretary Russ Knocke says the concerns stated by opponents of the law are unfounded.
"Some of the suggestions that have been made about privacy issues and databases, that's not going to be a factor here," says Knocke. "That's not even what this is about. This is about working with states to ensure that there is a baseline set of standards that will increase the integrity of these driver's licenses."
The Real ID Act resulted from the 9/11 commission's findings that of the 19 hijackers who carried out the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, 13 had fraudulently secured driver's licenses. Virginia was the worst culprit, issuing seven of the licenses. The commissioner recommended making driver's licenses more resistant to fraud, saying that for terrorists, a fake ID is tantamount to owning a lethal weapon.
The Real ID Act requires states to adhere to stringent security standards, including machine readability, on-site verification of identity before issuing the licenses, and retention of the records.
Among other things, the law requires the DMV to not only verify an applicant's identity but also scan the proof-of-identity documentssuch as Social Security cards, birth certificates, and proof of lawful residency in state and countryand to store them in digital files for at least 10 years or as paper records for seven years. DHS says while each state must maintain a database that can be queried by other states to determine whether an individual has a driver's license already issued in another state, the actual data won't be shared.
But civil liberties and privacy groups say these will in essence amount to linked databases. And although the law does not mandate sharing data with the feds, the ACLU believes that's inevitable. Sparapani says if the databases are hacked into, identity thieves could get not only Social Security numbers and other sensitive information but also the biometric data to which the documents are tagged, including digital fingerprints, photos, and signatures.