States hoping for federal help to comply with the governments Real ID Act will have to find other funding sources to pay for the technology.
The Senate on July 26 shot down an amendment that would have earmarked $300 million a year to help states pay for the technology requirements needed to comply with the federal act by 2008—or 2010, given some individual state extensions.
The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., was killed when a motion to table it passed 49-45. Under the Real ID Act, any state that doesnt ante up to implement and connect its Real ID database to other states could lose federal funding.
While the actual regulations and technical specs have yet to be handed down by DHS (Department of Homeland Security)—theyre expected between late August and late September—the expectations are widely understood: States will be required to implement systems and databases to electronically and securely capture, store and share a raft of citizen documentation that prove identity, lawful status, date of birth and Social Security number.
Each state must be able to share its motor vehicle database with all other states and the database must include, at minimum, all the information printed on the state drivers license, plus the drivers history, including motor vehicle violations, suspensions and any points on the drivers license. RFID tag—to store the electronic data that will be shared with other states.
Alexanders sought $300 million a year to help states. While DHS has said it will kick in 20 percent of a states Homeland Security Grant Program funds for Real ID compliance, the amount—even coupled with the rejected $300 million—is paltry compared to the $23.1 billion DHS estimates it will cost states to comply with Real ID.
“It is possible that some governor may look at this [Real ID] and say, Wait a minute, who are these people in Washington telling us what to do with our drivers licenses and making us pay for them too? We will just use our own licenses for certifying drivers, and Congress can create its own ID card for people who want to fly and do other federal things,” Alexander said in a 2005 address to Congress. “We have just assumed that every single state will want to ante up, turn its drivers license examiners into CIA agents, and pay hundreds of millions of dollars to do an almost impossible task over the next three years.”
He has said in hearings that in light of terrorist activities, despite the costs, the United States needs more secure documentation. Others, like the American Civil Liberties Union, are against Real ID altogether—not because of the potentially onerous costs to states to implement technology, but because the machine-readable technology mandated by the federal government poses a “serious privacy threat” to every U.S. citizen.
The ACLU said in an Aug. 1 statement that the IDs would hold machine-readable data—either on a bar code or in an RFID chip—for every American. The information would be stored in a national database available to government employees at all levels, putting every American at risk of identity theft and security breaches, according to the ACLU.
“Real ID is dead in the water and it is clear that no amount of money can save it,” ACLU Legislative Council Tim Sparapani said in the statement. “The only solution to Real ID is to scrap it and replace it, and Congress has caught on. With 17 states opposed to this program and the U.S. Senate standing behind them, this is the beginning of the end of Real ID. [Three hundred million dollars] does not even come close to covering the costs of the program, and it is not enough to lure Americans to give up their privacy.”
Advocates of Real ID, largely represented by the Coalition for a Secure Drivers License, a grassroots organization representing 9/11 victims families, released a statement Aug. 1 expressing its “deep appreciation” for Alexanders efforts.
“While we are disappointed in the outcome of the vote, we are very encouraged by the positive support of 44 senators,” said Coalition spokesman Neil Berro. “Its amazing that key players in the political process continue to ignore common sense. The DHS Appropriations bill contains billions of dollars for increased airport security, increased port security and additional border security. At the same time, the inspectors at airports continue to have no idea whether the IDs presented to them by travelers are fake IDs.”
The real issue for states could boil down to the cost of implementing and maintaining the systems required to support Real ID.
In March, DHS released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Real ID. The NPRM proposed the use of 2-D barcode as a mandated machine-readable technology. Bar code technology has been in use since the 1950s, is accepted globally and is used by 46 state motor vehicle jurisdictions. DHS is leaning toward encrypting the data on the barcode as a privacy protection, which could require additional technology. The real rub with implementing 2-D would be the systems required to validate and maintain ID documentation and enable secure queries from other states.
The NPRM does not specify the use of RFID—the actual rules could—as a minimum standard, but it does suggest states may “independently choose to implement an RFID solution, in addition to the standard 2-D bar code.”
The rational behind implementing additional technology could be to comply with further legislation down the road—a fear of groups like the ACLU—that could require RFID along with biometric capabilities, such as electronic storage of a finger print, iris scan or face scan, in a national ID that is interoperable with electronic passports.
The United States is part of a growing coalition of countries using RFID in ID documents, from passports to border crossing cards. Currently, RFID passports are included in new Finnish, U.K., Australian and some U.S. passports issued starting in 2006. Its estimated that the United States issued some 13 million passports last year. Biometrics are included in Asian and European passports. The European Commission is looking into RFID policy, which includes ID documentation. Malaysia began chipping its passports in 1998.