Monday, June 15, 2009

Administration Plans to Scale Back Real ID Law

By Spencer S. Hsu
Sunday, June 14, 2009

WASHINGTON — Yielding to pressure from states that refused to pay for it, the Obama administration is moving to scale back a federal law passed after the Sept. 11 attacks that was designed to tighten security requirements for driver's licenses, Homeland Security Department and congressional officials said.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wants to repeal and replace the $4 billion domestic security initiative known as Real ID, which calls for placing more secure licenses in the hands of 245 million Americans by 2017. The proposal, called Pass ID, would be cheaper, less rigorous and partly funded by federal grants, according to draft legislation that could be introduced as soon as Monday.

The rebranding effort follows months of talks with the National Governors Association and poses political risks for Obama as well as Napolitano, a former association chairwoman who wants to soothe strained relations with the states without appearing to retreat on a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission.

Commissioners called for federal standards for driver's licenses and birth certificates, noting, "For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons." Eighteen of 19 terrorist hijackers obtained state IDs, some of them fraudulently, easing their movements inside the country.

The Bush administration struggled to launch the 2005 law, delaying the program as states called it an unfunded mandate and privacy advocates warned it would create a de facto national ID.

Eleven states have refused to participate in Real ID.

In April, a judge blocked the Texas Department of Public Safety from continuing to enforce rules that were part of the state's efforts to comply with Real ID, finding that DPS acted outside its scope of authority.

The Pass ID plan keeps elements of Real ID, such as requiring a digital photograph, signature and machine-readable features such as a bar code. States will still need to verify identities and legal status by checking federal immigration, Social Security and State Department databases.

But it eliminates demands for new databases that would allow all states to store and cross-check such information, and a requirement that motor vehicle departments verify birth certificates with originating agencies.

DHS would have nine months to write new regulations and states would have five years to reissue all licenses, with completion expected in 2016.

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