Reality trumped regulations Dec. 18 as the Department of Homeland Security extended a deadline that would have required all travelers boarding airplanes to have driver's licenses that comply with the federal anti-fraud standards of the REAL ID law.
"In order to ensure that the millions of Americans traveling this holiday season are not disrupted, DHS is extending the Dec. 31 REAL ID material compliance deadline. The May 10, 2011, deadline for full compliance remains in effect, and the Department will continue to work closely with states to meet this deadline," the DHS said in a statement.
Approved after the 9/11 Commission called for federal standards for driver's licenses and birth certificates, the controversial REAL ID Act of 2005 requires states to authenticate birth certificates, Social Security numbers and citizenship status before issuing driver's licenses. It also requires states to make electronic copies of the information and link databases with other states to prevent people from getting licenses from different states.
Many states have refused to comply, claiming the REAL ID law was an unfunded mandate. Other worried that REAL ID was the first step toward a national ID. In its Dec. 18 statement, the DHS said states have made progress in driver's license security but simply cannot fulfill the requirements of REAL ID.
"Congress must act to address systemic problems with the REAL ID Act to advance our security interests over the long term," the DHS statement said.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano is supporting the efforts of governors and Congress to enact the PASS ID (Providing for Additional Security in States' Identification) Act, an alternative to REAL ID. When she was governor of Arizona, Napolitano called the REAL ID Act "feel-good" legislation not worth the cost.
Supporters of the PASS ID Act say the bill improves on the REAL ID law by providing states with the flexibility and funding they need, reducing the costs of implementation and ensuring privacy within the system. The bill also drops the REAL ID requirement that states create databases of driver's licenses to be shared with other states.
The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs took the first step July 29 toward dismantling the REAL ID Act. The committee approved PASS ID with an amendment to the bill that requires the verification of birth records, helps states digitize their birth records so that those records can be easily verified by motor vehicle departments and clarifies the privacy restrictions on the personal information stored on a license.
"The bill the committee approved is a good compromise that addresses many of the concerns we all have about the current REAL ID Act," bill sponsor Sen. Daniel Akaka said in a statement. "The PASS ID Act would implement identification security improvements, while fixing the worst parts of REAL ID and adding several important new privacy protections."