Real lD vs. PASS ID turns on technology debate

Backers of a new driver's license security program say the current Real ID program's costly IT requirements are unnecessary and won't work for states.

Backers of a proposed program to make driver’s licenses and identity cards more secure say their plan should replace the existing Real ID Act of 2005 that many states have resisted partially due to expensive investments in information technology.

States have complained about provisions of the Real ID law that require them to upgrade their driver's license programs with new technology at their own expense. Real ID requires states to store data electronically and make it accessible to other states.

Advocates of the alternative plan, Providing for Additional Security in States' Identification Act (PASS ID), testified today before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that their plan would be cheaper and more workable for the states, but would still improve security. Critics say the proposal doesn’t go far enough to improve the security of identification documents, as recommended by National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who supports the proposed changes, testified that Real ID’s requirement that states adopt new technologies to verify identity source documents electronically is too rigid. Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona, said under the current rules, states would need to spend an estimated $1.5 billion to update their systems and to electronically verify applicants’ information.

The National Governors Association also supports changing the IT requirements of Real ID. David Quam, director of federal relations for NGA, testified that PASS ID would reduce costs by killing requirements that states use systems for verifying vital records, passport information and sharing identification information with each other.

NGA estimates implementing PASS ID would cost a total of about $2 billion, compared to about a total $3.9 billion for Real ID under the current requirements.

However, Stewart Baker, who served as the Homeland Security Department's assistant secretary for policy during the George W. Bush administration, supported the requirements of Real ID. He testified the PASS ID bill should be amended to include requirements that states verify the validity of birth certificates and other similar identity documents.

Baker said it was relatively inexpensive to check those documents for validity, and several states are already doing so.

Ari Schwartz, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the PASS ID legislation would mitigate privacy problems caused by Real ID. However, he said privacy protections could be strengthened if some aspects of the PASS ID bill’s requirements were changed.

However, Chris Calabrese, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Technology and Liberty Program, said in a statement that PASS ID has the same privacy, constitutionality and security problems as Real ID. The ACLU said in a statement that it had joined 23 other civil-liberties groups to urge the repeal of Real ID and the rejection of PASS ID.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the committee’s chairman and ranking member, noted problems with the current Real ID law, but outlined aspects of the PASS ID bill that need further examination. Lieberman said he hopes to have the committee to consider the PASS ID Act before the end of July.

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