Committee: Real ID Act needs security overhaul

The Real ID Act of 2005 raises serious concerns about privacy, data security, cost, fairness and so-called mission creep that should be fully scrutinized before it is implemented, an advisory committee to the Homeland Security Department recommended Monday.

Since those concerns are unresolved, the DHS Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee said it cannot endorse the Real ID Act or the notice of proposed rulemaking at this time.

"Given that these issues have not received adequate consideration, the Committee feels that it is important that the following comments do not constitute an endorsement of Real ID or the regulations as workable or appropriate," the committee wrote in comments about the Real ID Act issued on May 7.

The Real ID Act was approved by Congress in 2005 to establish a national system to strengthen the integrity of state driver's licenses. Governors have said the act will cost up to $11 billion to implement over five years.

The data privacy committee said it was asked to review the notice of proposed rulemaking by DHS Chief Privacy Officer Hugo Teufel. In an eight-page comment letter, the panel issued 12 recommendations for improving the rulemaking.

Given the magnitude and potential serious consequences of the Real ID Act national identity management system, the federal government and states need to examine more seriously issues of privacy, accountability and data security, among others, the advisory committee wrote.

For example, under the current rulemaking, states are asked to submit comprehensive plans for protecting the personal data to be collected from individuals. However, the plans are likely to be "inconsistent" and "ineffective" because there are no minimum national standards that need to be met, the advisory group said. It recommends that the final rule include such a standard.

In addition, the comprehensive plans must address privacy, which they currently are not required to do, the advisory group said. There should be rules for accountability and storage of the data, notice to individuals on information being collected, provisions for redress and access, and provisions explicitly limiting what the cards can be used for, among others.

The advisory group also said that encryption might not be effective if it is being applied differently by each state. "Critics of encryption would argue that proper implementation depends on managing encryption keys across the multiple jurisdictions, which is unlikely to be efficient or effective," the report said.

The panel's 12 recommendations are:

  • The final rule should include an explicit data security standard for states to follow.

  • The final rule shall recommend specific steps to prevent unauthorized access to information on the card.

  • The standards should be modeled on procedures used by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

  • The final rule must require that states be accountable for the personal information they collect and store.

  • States should institute procedures for individuals to file complaints and obtain information on compliance with the states' comprehensive security plans.

  • DHS should evaluate the privacy notices contained in the states' comprehensive security plans.

  • DHS should evaluate whether individuals may opt out from secondary uses of the card.

  • DHS should evaluate whether individuals have adequate access to the personal information contained in the Real ID Act databases.

  • DHS should evaluate whether states have included a principle of limited purpose for use of the cards, with restrictions on unauthorized, commercial or secondary uses.

  • DHS should reevaluate the technologies to be used in storing machine-readable information on the card.

  • All state driver's license databases should include restrictions on access, transfer and secondary uses of the information.

  • DHS should conduct initial background checks on employees involved in production of the identity cards.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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