Saturday, March 3, 2007

Tamper-Proof Drivers License

Federal Requirement for Tamper-Proof Licenses Will Raise Fees for Drivers by 2013

Published: March 2, 2007

WASHINGTON, March 1 — Nearly 240 million Americans and legal residents will have to spend an estimated $20 more for a standardized and tamper-proof driver’s license by 2013 to comply with a proposed new federal rule issued Thursday.

Congress imposed the mandate for the new licenses in 2005, agreeing with the 9/11 Commission that terrorists’ access to fake licenses or state-issued identification cards made the 2001 plot easier to carry out.

But until now, the Department of Homeland Security had not issued rules governing the licenses’ security features or the documentation that will be required to get one. It also had not estimated the costs — about $14.6 billion to states and about $7.8 billion to individuals — of setting up the system called Real ID over the next decade.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, trying to address concerns raised by the states, said the department would allow those having trouble meeting the original May 2008 deadline to delay the start of the program until the end of 2009. But all states will still be required to replace all existing drivers’ licenses by 2013 — even those not up for renewal — if they want their licenses to be accepted as identification at airports or federal buildings.

“This is going to cost money — security does cost money,” Mr. Chertoff said Thursday. “But it is money well spent.”

To help the states get started, Mr. Chertoff offered up to $100 million in federal grants this year, although the money would come from antiterrorism funds already promised to the states. So far, only $40 million in federal aid has been provided for the program.

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who had advocated delaying the start of the program, praised the revisions.

“The department has finally recognized that it simply was unfair to impose this burden on the states,” Ms. Collins said Thursday on the Senate floor.

But the plan received largely negative reviews from state officials and civil liberties experts. “We have always known this law would be a nightmare for motorists and taxpayers, and President Bush’s rules have just confirmed that nightmare,” Gov. James E. Doyle of Wisconsin said in a statement Thursday, predicting “higher fees, longer lines, fewer D.M.V. centers, and a major headache when you go to renew your license.”

The National Governors Association said the federal aid Mr. Chertoff offered, representing about 10 percent of the cost in the first year and an unknown amount in future years, was woefully inadequate.

“It is a drop in a bucket,” said David Quam, the association’s director of federal relations, who estimated that the extra cost per person could reach $40. The cost of licenses now ranges from as much $85 in New York to as little as $4 in North Carolina, according to the AAA.

Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union said the new identification cards would leave the nation less secure. That is because Homeland Security said in the proposed rule issued Thursday that it did not intend to require the encryption of biographic data contained in a machine-readable strip on the license.

“You will create greater security vulnerabilities for sophisticated terrorists than the ones we are closing,” said Timothy Sparapani, legislative counsel at the A.C.L.U.

Applicants will have to prove their address, date of birth and legal status in the United States with valid government-issued documents. Exceptions will be granted to people born before 1935 and in certain other cases, like people who were victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Before states can issue a new license, they will need to electronically confirm that the applicant’s documentation is accurate. That will require states or the federal government to create electronic databases of birth certificates, immigration records and other documents — a task that could be difficult to complete in time, some state officials said Thursday.

Mr. Chertoff said the proposed rule, which is on track to become final in several months, would give states the option to make it illegal for merchants to automatically collect biographic data from the licenses.

States will also be permitted to issue a different type of license for people who cannot confirm they are in the United States legally. But these would not be valid as a form of federal identification.

Several states including Maine and Montana, angry over the high cost of the program and concerns about privacy, are considering or have voted on legislation calling for the repeal of the law. Jim Guest, a Missouri state legislator helping coordinate the repeal effort in more than 30 states, said the revolt would continue.

“All of our concerns are still there,” Mr. Guest said.