Senate Panel Takes Pass on REAL ID

The Homeland Security Committee approves a bill that aims to ease objections over the controversial REAL ID Act, the 2005 legislation that privacy advocates claim would create a national ID card and that states contend is an unfunded mandate.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee took the first step July 29 to dismantle the controversial REAL ID Act of 2005, approving legislation to effectively replace the law that has prompted criticism from privacy advocates, who contend it creates a de facto national ID card, and cash-strapped states, which claim they can't afford the law.
Supporters of the new PASS ID Act (Providing for Additional Security in States' Identification) say the bill improves 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 driver's license databases to be shared with other states.
In addition, the committee approved 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 K. Akaka, D-Hawaii, 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."
Approved after the 9/11 Commission called for federal standards for driver's licenses and birth certificates, the REAL ID Act mandates states 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.
At least 13 states have passed laws refusing to participate in REAL ID even though it could mean their state's driver's licenses wouldn't be accepted as identification at airports. Even Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, when she was governor of Arizona, called the REAL ID Act "feel-good" legislation not worth the cost.
"PASS ID provides a strong yet flexible framework for states to implement secure identification," Napolitano said before the vote. "I am proud to join our nation's governors in supporting PASS ID-a cost-effective, common-sense solution that balances critical security requirements with the input and practical needs of state governments."

The committee also approved an amendment that protects airport security officials from potential lawsuits should they prevent passengers without a compliant driver's license from boarding a plane. "With this amendment, I believe the bill strikes the proper balance between the goal of improved security and the concerns about cost and privacy," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said.