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DHS warns states not to reject Real ID

Agency implementing law despite legislative efforts to circumvent it

By Marc L. Songini
July 18, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld -

Despite several state and federal efforts to force noncompliance with the new federal identification law, or Real ID Act, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has continued work on the law's guidelines and warned states that they face consequences for failing to comply.

The Real ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, mandates national standards for all state driver's licenses and other official documents. The DHS hasn't released a final version of the law, but the agency has said that it will require the documents to include a digital photograph and a bar code that can be scanned by electronic readers.

The initial compliance deadline is next year, with full compliance required by 2013.

The Real ID Act led to an outcry from privacy advocates and to the passage of laws in some states, including New Hampshire, that prohibit compliance with the law.

Despite the criticism, the DHS continues to insist that the law be implemented on schedule. "I think residents of states that choose not to comply are going to be displeased with their leadership's decision when we get closer to full implementation," a DHS spokesman said. "They'll  no longer be able do certain things that carriers of state-issued drivers licenses take for granted today."

He noted that residents of states whose identification cards don't comply with the law will be prohibited from entry to airports and federal buildings. It could also block access to "certain critical infrastructure sites" such as a power plants or dams, he said.

Critics won a small victory against the law last month when Montana's two Democratic senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, successfully called on colleagues to cut language from a now-stalled immigration bill that would have required all employers to check the eligibility of any potential employee by using Real ID documents.

"My boss and Sen. Tester don't support the Real ID program, as do a majority of Montana citizens," said a Baucus spokesman. "It amounts to a national ID system, and there are privacy concerns."

Tim Sparapani, legislative council at the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the deleted language would have led to a "massive expansion" of Real ID-compliant documents. In effect, it would have made a driver's license an employment document, he said.

Sparapani predicted the final regulations will come from DHS around Labor Day, and individual states not now opposing Real ID will have to decide if they want to reject it or implement it.

The DHS spokesman declined to offer a specific date for when the final regulations would be issued.

Read more about Privacy in Computerworld's Privacy Topic Center.



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