New Hampshire officials say no to Real ID

Governor set to sign bill that rejects compliance with federal law

New Hampshire is poised to become the latest of a handful of states to enact a law to ban implementation of the federal national identification act.

The Real ID Act, whose evolving guidelines were last updated in March by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was passed by Congress in 2005 with a May 2008 deadline for compliance. The deadline can now be extended until December 2009 with DHS approval.

About a dozen states, including Maine, Hawaii and Idaho, have so far passed legislation opposing the federal law, said a spokesman for the Washington-based American Civil Liberties Union.

“The concerns are all similar,” he said. “They are based on privacy, cost, and convenience.”

To date, the Real ID Act would require that all state driver's licenses and other identification cards include a digital photograph and a bar code that can be scanned by electronic readers.

Cards that comply with the law would be required in order to enter federal buildings and nuclear power plants, as well as to board commercial airplanes, according to the DHS.

The New Hampshire bill, which labeled the Real ID Act as “contrary and repugnant” to the New Hampshire and U.S. Constitutions, was passed in the State Senate by a 24 to 0 vote late last month.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives had passed the law by a 268 to 8 vote earlier in the month.

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch plans to sign the bill, though no timetable has been set, his spokesman said this week.

In a statement last week, Lynch applauded the votes by legislators. “I continue to have many concerns about Real ID, including the cost, the impact on the privacy of our citizens and the burden it will place on state government employees,” Lynch said.

During debate on the bill, legislators in both branches raised several objections to the Real ID Act, including the cost of its implementation and its potential to violate the privacy rights of individuals.

“The State Senate doesn’t believe the Real ID program was properly thought out by the feds,” said  Sen. Peter Burling (D-Corning), a sponsor of the bill.

Lynch’s spokesman noted that with passage of the bill, New Hampshire will forfeit a $3 million federal grant to implement Real ID. 

“That $3 million bribe was tempting,” noted Burling. However, he projected that the cost of implementing the law would be far more than $3 million -- perhaps as much as $10 million. 

He noted that the state would be responsible for purchasing technology to meet the requirements of the law and for storing copies of any additional documents that cardholders must provide under Real ID.

And despite assurances from DHS that the data will not be stored in a central national database, Burling said state officials also fear that there would be widespread access to personal data of state residents.

Such a central database, he added, could prove to be a bonanza for hackers.

“If you want to do us harm, what’s more fun [to hackers] than a central database?” Burling asked. “If you electronically link all this information, you’re just asking [cybercriminals] around the world to take a crack at it.”

The DHS, however, contends that employees from the departments of motor vehicles in other states won’t have access to the data. Nor does the current proposal boost federal access to state motor vehicle data, the DHS said.

State Rep. Neal Kurk (R-Weare), a strong advocate of New Hampshire’s bill, added that he fears that the federal law will ultimately require that ID cards include radio-frequency identification (RFID) or similar technology that can be used to store personal data and track the location of citizens.

The legislators acknowledged that the New Hampshire bill could prevent residents from entering restricted sites.

However, Kurk said that as more states join the effort to block the ID law, it becomes more likely to be changed to assuage the critics. “If New York and California refuse to comply, Real ID will collapse of its own weight,” he said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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