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South Carolina gets Real ID extension, without actually asking for one

DHS chief gives state more time to comply with law that it doesn't plan to comply with

March 31, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Looking to defuse another potential test of the federal government's determination to push ahead with its controversial Real ID program, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security today gave South Carolina an extension for complying with the program's requirements — even though the state didn't explicitly request such an extension.

Under compliance rules issued by the DHS in January, today was the last day for states to seek an extension on meeting a set of Real ID requirements that are supposed to be implemented by May 11. South Carolina and Maine were the only states without extensions at the start of the day, according to the DHS Web site. That put their residents at risk of not being able to use their driver's licenses as identification when checking in for air travel or entering federal buildings after May 11.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff granted the extension to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford late in the day, in a letter that was sent in response to an earlier one from Sanford to Chertoff in which the governor reiterated his state's refusal to comply with the Real ID mandates while also asking the DHS not to "needlessly penalize" South Carolina residents.

In a lengthy and blistering section of his letter (download PDF), Sanford cited six specific concerns that he has about the Real ID mandate. They include the program's cost, the expansion of federal powers it entails, and the data privacy and security issues that he said would stem from the creation of a national network of driver's license databases.

But Sanford began the letter by detailing a series of steps that he said South Carolina has taken proactively to make its driver's license processes more secure, including a 2002 system upgrade at the state's Department of Motor Vehicles and a plan to install a facial recognition system to help prevent fraudulent license applications. "In short, we are making the very security upgrades that Real ID calls for and are ahead of many states in doing so," Sanford wrote.

That tack was similar to one used previously by the governors of Montana and New Hampshire, which, like South Carolina, have passed laws prohibiting state officials from complying with the Real ID requirements. And as in the two earlier cases, Chertoff agreed to treat Sanford's letter as both a request for an extension of the deadline and the basis for granting such an extension.

Chertoff defended the Real ID program in his response to Sanford. For example, he said that it wouldn't result in the creation of a national driver's license database and that systems already in place enable law enforcement officials throughout the U.S. to share motor vehicle data. "Those systems have not produced the large-scale data compromises you fear," Chertoff wrote.

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