DHS privacy committee joins Real ID opposition

It's concerned about costs, privacy and data security

A privacy committee of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has joined a growing chorus of voices opposed to the controversial Real ID bill, which proposes to create a national standard for state driver's licenses and other forms of state-issued identification.

In comments submitted to the DHS earlier this week, the department's own Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee called the Real ID Act "one of the largest identity management undertakings in history" and said it raises serious privacy, security and logistical concerns.

"These include, but are not limited to, the implementation costs, the privacy consequences, the security of stored identity documents and personal information," the committee noted. It also cited other concerns such as mission creep, redress and fairness issues.

The committee was commenting on a set of draft regulations that the DHS released in March for implementing the requirements of the Real ID Act. The deadline for submitting public comments was Tuesday.

The Real ID Act of 2005, passed as part of a wider effort to combat terrorism, sets minimum national standards that states must use when issuing driver's licenses and other forms of identification. This includes a photo ID, documentation of birth date and address, proof of citizenship or immigration status, and verification of Social Security numbers.

States are required to hold digital images of each identity document for between seven and 10 years. The cards themselves will include all of the standard elements found on most driver's licenses today and will be machine-readable to allow for the easy capture of information from the card.

As proposed, the Real ID Act is scheduled to go into effect starting May 2008.

States are not mandated to issue Real ID cards. However, individuals would need Real ID-compliant cards for air travel or for getting into federal buildings, such as courthouses and nuclear facilities, or for receiving federal benefits. Under the act, all state driver's license databases would be linked with each other in one system with shared access.

The proposal to issue Real ID cards has provoked a firestorm of protest from several quarters. Much of the concern stems from fears that the card would become a de facto national ID system that would be hard to manage and even harder to secure. There are also fears that the cards could eventually be used for a wide set of purposes -- including surveillance by the U.S. government.

The DHS committee comments echoed those concerns. The DHS draft regulations, for instance, make no mention of a comprehensive plan for securing the stored identity data that states around the country could use. Neither is there any mention of specific steps that states need to take to prevent the unauthorized access of information from the machine-readable strips on the back of the proposed cards, the committee said.

On the privacy front, the proposed DHS rule does not make states accountable for the personal data that they will be required to collect. The rules are also silent on the issue of how states will respond to and redress inquires and complaints about the use of personal information. Similarly, the proposed rule does not require state agencies to tell consumers about the data collection, the purposes for which it will be used or how it will be stored.

"Failure to provide openness and transparency undermines accountability and trust," the DHS committee noted in its comments.

Similar concerns were expressed in comments submitted jointly on May 8 by the National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. Those comments did express support for Real ID's stated goal of improving the security and integrity of state-issued driver's licenses and ID cards.

But the proposed May 11, 2008, implementation date is far too rushed and does not give states time to prepare for a proper rollout, the three entities said in their comments. The letter reiterated earlier recommendations from the group, including the need for a "workable extension" of the deadline and additional money for states to implement Real ID requirements. Without those changes, the measure is flawed, they said.

Those concerns come on top of a litany of opposition from other quarters. Just last week, a coalition of more than 40 privacy advocacy groups launched a nationwide campaign to muster public opposition to the bill. In addition, more than 30 states have expressed reservations with the act, with several such as Montana, Maine, Idaho, Arkansas and Washington saying they will not issue Real ID cards.

Several members of Congress have also expressed their opposition. Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and John Sununu (R-N.H.) in February introduced a proposal called the Identification Security Enhancement Act of 2007 that would correct some of the shortcomings in the Real ID Act. The bill's co-sponsors include Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

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