Feb 07 2007

Real ID intrusive, says state lawmaker

Tuscaloosa News

By Dana Beyerle


An Alabama legislator said Tuesday he wants the state to join a growing effort to stop a national driver’s license database he considers intrusive.

Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said he would introduce a resolution opposing implementation of the federal Real ID Act of 2005 when the Legislature begins its regular session next month.

The Maine Legislature passed a resolution last month opposing the federal identification network and the revolt has since spread to other states.

Under the Real ID Act, by May 2008 states will have to adhere to federal regulations requiring people to present original documents, such as a birth certificate, when applying for a new driver’s license. The documents would be entered into a record-keeping system that is linked to a national database.

“This is the first step toward a national ID," Ward said.

The forthcoming regulations stem from President Bush and Congress’ reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the ease of obtaining fake driver’s licenses and identification cards.

Jeff Woodard, a spokesman for Alabama House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said Hammett is seeking information on the implications and the costs of proposed federal requirements for securing a driver’s license.

“What we have to weigh is the value of security from terrorists with your ability to present something that proves you’re an American," said House Majority leader Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill.

Alabama Department of Public Safety Maj. Floyd Bingham, chief of the driver license division, said the estimated cost to implement a new record-keeping system is about $4.5 million, and the annual operating cost would be about $275,000 a year.

Matt Sundeen, a transportation analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, told the Associated Press the system could cost states $11 billion.

Federal Department of Homeland Security spokesman Jarrod Agen said Congress appropriated $40 million to implement the regulations and that they would not result in creating a database of citizens’ personal records and information.

“There’s no interest in creating a national database," he said. “States will have to be able to communicate with each other."

But privacy advocates say Real ID could result in more identity theft.

Katie Boyd, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said that the state’s senior senator, a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is concerned about privacy rights and wary of the government’s ability to safeguard information.

“The senator has serious concerns regarding the ability of the government to obtain and warehouse your most sensitive, personal information without a guarantee for its security," Boyd said.

Shelby also is concerned about mandates such as the requirement to digitize and centralize documents necessary to apply for a driver’s license, Boyd said.

She said Shelby believes a rogue hacker or dishonest driver’s license division employee could misuse personal information.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said legislation to counter the Real ID Act has not been introduced and he wants to see it before commenting, a spokesman said.

Gov. Bob Riley said he would continue Alabama’s implementation of the federal regulations.

“We’ve developed a system that probably is as good as any in the country," Riley said. “We have no plans to change it."

Homeland Security’s Agen said the federal agency in a few weeks will publish proposed requirements and wait the 60-day public comment period before issuing final regulations.

Although the specifics of the regulations have not been determined, privacy advocates say the act would require a digital photo and possibly even a fingerprint on each state-issued license or ID card.

Riley said that he did not think he could “support a system that would have everybody’s personal information."

U.S. Sens. John Sununu, R-N.H., and Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, filed legislation last year to repeal the act and expects similar legislation to come before Congress this year.

“Sen. Akaka will have a hearing on it," said spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke. Akaka is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Government Management, Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia.

The Maine Legislature in January approved a resolution objecting to the Real ID Act of 2005 and so far opposition has spread to Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming, the Associated Press reported.