4 States Pledge to Enhance Driver's License Security

Four states sign an agreement with the federal government to enhance the security of their driver's licenses.

Arizona joined Washington, Vermont and New York on Dec. 6 in signing an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to enhance the security of its driver's licenses in compliance with the impending Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative [WHTI].

A majority of additional states are rebelling against a closely related license overhaul mandate, The Real ID Act. New York's Governor Elliot Spitzer came under national fire - and ultimately wound up dropping his proposed legislation - with his plan to comply with both WHTI and RFID requirements.

WHTI requires U.S., Canadian, Mexican and Bermuda citizens traveling between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean or Bermuda by land or sea - including ferries - to present a valid U.S. passport.

The Real ID Act, on the other hand, requires states to overhaul their driver's license systems to make it harder for terrorists to obtain licenses. The technology specifications include the implementation of machine-readable technology and a database that holds citizen data, which must be connected to other state databases and to a federal database.

While DHS had been leaning toward mandating RFID as a machine readable technology a backlash from consumers and states concerned about privacy and security risks with RFID led DHS to suggest states utilize 2D barcode technology instead.

Click here to read more about the Department of Homeland Security is easing up on the Real ID technology requirements.

It's not clear if WHTI mandates the use of RFID, but both New York and the state of Washington are heading that way.

New York's proposed legislation fell on hard times in October because it would have allowed illegal immigrants to obtain a driver's license. But Gov. Spitzer had also proposed using RFID as a means of securing driver's licenses - a detail that was overshadowed in the furor over immigration rights.

Gov. Spitzer, who formally dropped the plan Nov. 14, has yet to put forth an alternative plan that would comply with Real ID and WHTI. The State of Washington's pilot program, launched in March, was presented as a potential work around to the passport requirement by providing an RFID-chipped license to residents who travel frequently cross the Canadian border for business.

The Arizona agreement, similar to the other states, will serve as an option for those citizens who don't want to get a passport, but need to comply with WHTI. Under the terms of the agreement the state of Arizona will develop a technologically-enhanced driver's license that will validate the identity and U.S. citizenship of Arizona residents who apply for the WHTI-compliant card.

Arizona did not specify whether it will utilize RFID, and Gov. Janet Napolitano's office did not return calls to eWEEK before press time. A joint press release from DHS and Gov. Napolitano's office said that Arizona's WHTI document will also comply with Real ID.

DHS has set a summer 2008 deadline for states to comply with WHTI, though the 2008 deadline to comply with Real ID has been extended. DHS is expected to release the final Real ID regulations by year's end or early in 2008.

By February 2007 38 states had joined a coalition against Real ID, promising to rebel against the federal mandate through legislation in their own states.

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