Real ID opposition sparks revisions to national driver's license standard

Pass ID drops controversial proposals, but not all think law's revision went far enough

Widespread opposition to a 2005 bill designed to create a national standard for driver's licenses has prompted a revised version of the bill that no longer contains its most controversial provisions.

The proposed revision is called the "Providing for Additional Security in States' Identification" Act of 2009, or Pass ID Act, and was introduced in the U.S. Senate late on Monday by Senators Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Max Baucus (D-MT) and Thomas Carper (D-DE).

The bill is a revised version of the Real ID Act of 2005, which was signed into law by then President Bush but the implementation of which has almost stopped amid cost concerns and fears that it could end up becoming a de facto national ID card.

Like Real ID, the proposed Pass ID is designed to give states a set of minimum standards they are required to follow when issuing driver's licenses. These include the need for issuing agencies to ensure that all individuals applying for a license have credentials that establish their identity, age, principle residence, their U.S. citizenship or their proper legal status in the country.

Pass ID requires states to establish processes for vetting the credentials presented by individuals applying for licenses, and to periodically check the legal status of individuals who have been issued licenses but are not U.S. citizens.

The proposed bill, like Real ID, requires state driver's license agencies to store digital photos of individuals to whom driver's licenses have been issued, as well as digital copies or paper copies of all supporting documents. As with Real ID, a license that is compliant with Pass ID will be machine-readable and will eventually be required for individuals to board commercial aircraft, or federal facilities such as those associated with defense or national security.

Controversial aspects cut

Pass ID also seeks to repeal some of the most controversial aspects of the Real ID bill. For instance, the proposed bill would strictly limit the official purposes for which a Pass ID credential would be required, compared with Real ID, for which no such restrictions existed. It also eliminates the requirement that all state driver's license databases be linked to each other, and that each state allow their databases to be electronically accessible by other states.

Under Pass ID states will no longer be required to authenticate birth certificates, Social Security numbers or other credentials with the issuing authority and instead are only required to "validate" them. States will also not be charged for tapping the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) databases to verify the immigration status of an individual as they would have been under Real ID.

In addition, Pass ID seeks to limit the kind of information that a license-issuing agency should include in the machine readable portion of the license, and the purposes for which that data can be used. States will be prohibited from including Social Security numbers in the machine readable zone of a license, whereas previously there were no such limitations. Importantly, the proposed bill also requires new privacy and security safeguards for personally identifiable data.

The changes come amid a virtual rebellion by states over the implementation of Real ID, which was signed into law in conformance with the recommendations of the 9/11 commission on terrorism. So far, more than two dozen states have passed measures either rejecting or opposing the Real ID mandate including Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Washington.

Last month, Oregon lawmakers joined the rebellion, approving a bill that would prohibit agencies from spending state money to implement the requirements of the Real ID Act unless the federal government reimbursed them. The bill would also prevent the state's Department of Transportation from implementing requirements of the Real ID Act unless it can demonstrate specific security controls for protecting license data.

Such protests have stemmed from what many states say is the unreasonable cost burdens of Real ID with its increased documentation, identity verification, data storage and database linking requirements.

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