Repealing REAL ID? Rolling Back Driver’s License Security

Contact: Janice Kephart, [email protected], (202) 466-8185

WASHINGTON (June 15, 2009) – Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has made clear her commitment to repeal the 2005 secure driver’s license law, REAL ID. Recently, the Obama administration has supported senior members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in drafting a soon-to-be introduced bill entitled “Providing for Additional Security in States’ Identification Act of 2009,” also known as the PASS ID Act. The PASS ID Act, in drafts reviewed to date, would repeal key aspects of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, including identity verification and birth record digitization. Janice Kephart, Director of National Security Policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, addresses the implications of REAL ID and PASS ID in a new backgrounder, “Repealing REAL ID? Rolling Back Drivers License Security.”

The PASS ID Act would repeal the driver’s license provisions of the REAL ID Act of 2005, legislation aimed at ensuring that all states meet minimum driver’s license security standards in order to enhance national security and driver safety, combat drug running, and better safeguard against identity theft and fraud. While no state is required to comply, the 30 or so states that are choosing to actively meet REAL ID minimum standards are helping make America less vulnerable. PASS ID supporters are painting REAL ID as a poorly drafted law that is not supported by the 9/11 Commission recommendations as well as an affront to privacy and states’ rights. The reality is that REAL ID balances liberty and security by protecting legitimate applicants from fraud; states from bad drivers, criminals, and government waste; and federal interests in commercial airport and critical infrastructure security. REAL ID was also based not just on 9/11 Commission recommendations, but also on guidance from the states’ own officials – the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators’ “2004 DL/ID Security Framework,” as outlined in an earlier CIS report by Kephart, “The Appearance of Security: REAL ID Final Regulations vs. PASS ID Act of 2009.”

There is no need to repeal REAL ID. Seventeen states have publicly stated their commitment to implementing REAL ID, while some are preparing to solicit the Department of Homeland Security for a designation as compliant with the first 18 benchmarks. Deadline for this “first tier” compliance under current law is January 1, 2010. More states are working towards compliance, but due to political pressure have decided to keep their compliance efforts discrete. One outcome of PASS ID would be that those states that have REAL ID authorization language in place will be forced to abandon that legislation and begin a new authorization and budget cycle.

Not only would the PASS ID legislation introduce confusion into an ongoing implementation process and repeal 9/11 Commission identity verification recommendations, but it would also give states money without accountability, repeal airport identity security, and eliminate information-sharing between states. Congress should preserve REAL ID, fund it adequately, and take steps to ensure its full implementation.