Republicans and Democrats alike are harshly criticizing the Bush administration's Real ID program, which requires states to digitally store individuals' identity documents and provide electronic access to all other states.
Implementation of the controversial law signed by Bush in 2005 has twice been delayed, and states currently have until 2011 to meet the standards outlined in the legislation.
"The massive amounts of personal information that would be stored in state databases that are to be shared electronically with all other states, as well as the unencrypted data on the Real ID card itself, could provide one-stop shopping for identity thieves," Sen. Daniel Akaka said at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing April 29.
Akaka, the Democratic chairman of the committee, has introduced legislation to scrap the Real ID Act entirely, replacing it with a "negotiated" rulemaking between the states and the federal government. Akaka's proposal has the support of fellow Democrats Patrick Leahy, Jon Tester and Max Baucus, along with a number of Republicans.
"It is unclear what privacy and data security laws would apply to this network of networks and what redress mechanisms are in place for individuals whose data is lost or stolen in another state," Akaka said. "Because of the lack of privacy details in Real ID, this expansive effort may create a false sense of security while actually making Americans more vulnerable to identity theft."
Republican Susan Collins, the ranking member of the committee, said while the two extensions have delayed any short-term crisis, "they do not resolve other problems with Real ID."
The Department of Homeland Security estimates that the Real ID program will cost $10 billion to implement, with states being forced to pay about $4 billion. Stewart Baker, an assistant secretary at Homeland Security, told the committee the actual amount might be lower.
"It is, as I see it, the worst kind of Washington D.C. boondoggle," said Tester. He said the program is being "implemented in a style that makes ordinary folks cringe."
The Real ID program has its origins as a response to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. Most of the hijackers acquired some form of U.S. identification document-some by fraud-which helped them in boarding commercial flights and renting cars. The 9-11 Commission recommended stricter requirements for the issuance of driver's licenses and other forms of personal identification.
Concerns over privacy, state's rights and cost stalled the legislation until Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., attached the bill as a rider to a military appropriations bill. Since then, the law has been mired in controversy.
"States are struggling to figure out how they are to pay for what is essentially an unfunded mandate," Akaka said. "The matter is even more important given the current economic climate. States are trying to figure out how to pay for schools, roads, health care and other central services in a tight budget. Now they have to figure out how to pay for secure ID cards."