Senators Threaten To Repeal Real ID Act Unless Changes Are Made - InformationWeek

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12/14/2006
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Senators Threaten To Repeal Real ID Act Unless Changes Are Made

If the Department of Homeland Security does not agree to changes that reduce the burden on state governments and increase privacy protections for citizens, two senators say they will try to have the national ID law repealed.

Two Senators proposed legislation last week to repeal the Real ID Act of 2005.

The lawmakers are likely to take the issue up again during the 110th Congress. Sen. Daniel Akaka, a Hawaii Democrat, and Sen. John Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican, are pushing for individual privacy protections and lower costs for state governments. If the Department of Homeland Security will not agree to changes that reduce the burden on state governments and increase privacy protections for citizens, Akaka said he would try to have the national ID law repealed.

Akaka echoed complaints from hundreds of groups -- including the National Rifle Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and associations representing state lawmakers -- in criticizing the legislation. He noted that the law was attached to defense spending, tsunami relief, and terror prevention. He said the proposal was not subjected to scrutiny, floor debate, or hearings before Congress was "forced" to pass it.

The Real ID Act requires state licenses and identification to meet a series of requirements in order to be considered valid for entering federal buildings or boarding planes.

He pointed to a study by the National Governors' Association that concluded states would have to spend $1.42 billion to meet the act's requirement that state governments electronically verify all documents people use when obtaining drivers licenses. A re-enrollment requirement would cost about $8 billion in five years, he said. The whole program would cost $11 billion, according to the governors' association.

That's because states would have to adopt new electronic systems for verifying documents like birth certificates and would have to link those systems to other states to meet requirements for residents born elsewhere. The act would hinder or entirely stop online and mail order renewals, creating backups at motor vehicle departments, Akaka said.

"In addition to the cost imposed on states, Real ID imposes an unrealistic timeframe," he said. "Under the law, states must have Real ID compliant systems in place by May 2008. Yet implementing regulations have not been issued."

Once the Homeland Security department issues the regulations, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget has 90 days to review them. By the time that is done, states will have about a year to develop electronic verification systems, redesign drivers' licenses, establish protocols for securing personal data, increase motor vehicle staff and find funding for the overhaul, Akaka pointed out.

"It's taken DHS over a year and a half just to issue the regulations," he said. "Expecting the states to execute the new system in even less time is unrealistic.

Akaka also criticized requirements for collection and storage of sensitive, personally identifiable information, including Social Security numbers, proof of residence and biometric identifiers.

"If the new state databases are compromised, they will provide one-stop access to virtually all information necessary to commit identity theft," he said.

Information sharing between agencies could allow millions of people to access the information, he said. Finally, there are no protections to stop the private sector from scanning and sharing information.

"Despite these obvious threats to Americans' privacy, the Real ID Act fails to mandate privacy protections for individuals' information nor does it provide states with the means to implement data security and anti-hacking protections that will be required to safeguard the new databases mandated by the Act," Akaka said.

Akaka said he plans to review upcoming DHS regulations to see if they address the issues before taking further action on the bill.

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