New Hampshire Legislators Say No to Real ID Program

Governor set to sign bill that rejects state's compliance with federal law

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

The Real ID bill, 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 be extended on a case-by-case basis 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 American Civil Liberties Union in Washington.

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

As it stands, the Real ID law would require that all state drivers 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 for people entering federal buildings and nuclear power plants and boarding 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 24-0 vote in late May.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives had passed the law by a 268-8 vote in April.

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

In a statement last month, Lynch applauded the vote 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 the New Hampshire House and Senate raised several objections to the Real ID law, including the cost of its implementation and its potential to violate the privacy rights of individuals.

The state Senate doesnt believe the Real ID program was properly thought out by the feds, said Sen. Peter Burling (D-Corning), a sponsor of the bill.

State Forfeits $3M

Lynchs 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 and 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 the DHS that the data would 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, whats more fun [to hackers] than a central database? asked Burling. If you electronically link all this information, youre just asking [cybercriminals] around the world to take a crack at it.

At A Glance

Real ID Act
It was passed by Congress in 2004 as a means to apprehend potential terrorists. The Department of Homeland Security must stipulate technology requirements for state drivers licenses and identification cards. Real ID cards would be required for boarding commercial aircraft and for entry into federal buildings and nuclear power plants. The issuing agency is required to store copies of personal documents. The evolving criteria are still being drafted by the DHS

The DHS, however, contends that employees from the motor vehicle departments in other states wouldnt 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 Hampshires bill, added that he fears that the federal law will ultimately require identification cards to include radio frequency identification or similar technology that can be used to store personal data and track the locations of citizens.

Meanwhile, the legislators acknowledged that residents of states that ban implementation of Real ID could be prevented from entering restricted sites such as federal offices or flying on commercial airlines.

However, Kurk said that as more states join the effort to block Real ID, it is increasingly likely that the DHS will change the law 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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