WASHINGTON – Residents of Washington, Idaho, Montana and at least 14 states are suddenly stuck in the middle of a fight between the Bush administration and state governments over post-Sept. 11 security rules for driver’s licenses – a dispute that, by May, could leave millions of people unable to use their licenses to board planes or enter federal buildings.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who was unveiling final details of the REAL ID Act’s rules Friday, said that if states want their licenses to remain valid for air travel after May 2008, those states must seek a waiver indicating they want more time to comply with the legislation.
Chertoff said that in instances where a particular state doesn’t seek a waiver, its residents will have to use a passport or a newly created federal passport card if they want to avoid a vigorous secondary screening at airport security.
“The last thing I want to do is punish citizens of a state who would love to have a REAL ID license but can’t get one,” Chertoff said. “But in the end, the rule is the rule as passed by Congress.”
Chertoff spoke as he discussed the details of the administration’s plan to improve security for driver’s licenses in all 50 states – an effort delayed because of opposition from states worried about the cost and civil libertarians upset about what they believe are invasions of privacy.
Under the rules announced Friday, Americans born after Dec. 1, 1964, will have to get more secure driver’s licenses in the next six years.
The Homeland Security Department has spent years crafting the final regulations for the REAL ID Act, a law designed to make it harder for terrorists, illegal immigrants and con artists to get government-issued identification. The effort once envisioned to take effect in 2008 has been pushed back in the hopes of winning over skeptical state officials.
To address some of those concerns, the government now plans to phase in a secure ID initiative that Congress approved in 2005. Now, the DHS plans a key deadline in 2011 – when federal authorities hope all states will be in compliance – and then further measures to be enacted three years later.
To make the plan more appealing to cost-conscious states, federal authorities drastically reduced the expected cost from $14.6 billion to $3.9 billion, a 73 percent decline, said Homeland Security officials familiar with the plan.
The American Civil Liberties Union has fiercely objected to the effort, particularly the sharing of personal data among government agencies.
The DHS and other officials say the only way to ensure an ID is safe is to check it against secure government data; critics such as the ACLU say that creates a system that is more likely to be infiltrated and have its personal data pilfered.
In its written objection to the law, the ACLU claims REAL ID amounts to the “first-ever national identity card system,” which “would irreparably damage the fabric of American life.”
The Sept. 11 attacks were the main motivation for the changes.
The hijacker-pilot who flew into the Pentagon, Hani Hanjour, had four driver’s licenses and ID cards from three states. The DHS, created in response to the attacks, has created a slogan for REAL ID: “One driver, one license.”
So far, 17 states have passed legislation or resolutions objecting to the REAL ID Act’s provisions, many due to concerns it will cost them too much to comply.
The 17, according to the ACLU, are: Idaho, Washington, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.