Q & A: Hurry up and wait

Proposed rules for Real ID are of concern to DHS' Richard Barth

DHS is looking into solutions that would not interfere with law enforcement and public safety functions but would provide enhanced security for personal information. -Richard Barth

The Real ID Act of 2005 could be one of the biggest opportunities for upgrading government identification cards. It requires states to eventually replace all existing driver's licenses with new credentials that conform to national standards and link to a nationwide system.

Governors have been asking Congress to fund the mandate, which could cost $11 billion. Meanwhile, the Homeland Security Department is preparing to issue long-awaited regulations to implement the act. Although DHS maintains that strengthening controls on driver's licenses is necessary to prevent terrorists from obtaining fraudulent IDs, critics have raised concerns about the possibilities of lost privacy and identity theft.

DHS' top official for developing the Real ID requirements is Richard Barth, who was appointed assistant secretary of the Office of Policy Development in August 2006. He is responsible for coordinating policy among DHS entities, state and federal agencies, and foreign governments.

Previously, Barth was corporate vice president and director of homeland security strategy at Motorola Inc. He was responsible for working with federal officials to advance Motorola's business goals worldwide and managed a team that dealt with first responder communications and other telecommunications issues.

Barth has served on the National Security Council and in various positions at the Commerce and Treasury departments. He has a doctorate in inorganic chemistry from the University of Maryland and an A.B. degree from Franklin and Marshall College.
He recently corresponded with Washington Technology reporter Alice Lipowicz.

Q: What is DHS' recommendation for the machine-readable technology for the Real ID card?

Barth: DHS has received several comments related to the machine-readable zone for the Real ID card. In general, these comments fall into two categories.
Law enforcement and public safety officials strongly support continuing the current practice of encoding the printed information on the front of the license in the machine-readable zone (MRZ). This is the practice in most states now, and many law enforcement agencies use equipment that reads the MRZ to ensure that the information on [traffic] tickets is correct. Encrypting this information would interfere with day-to-day law enforcement and public safety operations.

Privacy advocates are concerned with the skimming of information off the MRZ for commercial and other purposes. Although a few states have laws against skimming, most do not.

DHS is looking into solutions that would not interfere with law enforcement and public safety functions but would provide enhanced security for personal information.

Q: Will Washington state's enhanced driver's license pilot project use a combination Real ID/Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative card? What technologies will it use?

Barth: When it comes to enhanced driver's license projects, DHS has worked to align Real ID and Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requirements. As an example of this alignment, DHS highlighted the Real ID Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Washington state as a guideline for secure issuance and document requirements. Although the goal of enhancing identification security is shared by both programs, there are some distinctions, such as the statutory standards of legal presence for Real ID and citizenship for [the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative]. Since DHS has not yet published the Real ID requirements in final regulations, it is not possible or appropriate to say that the enhanced driver's license will satisfy Real ID requirements.

The enhanced driver's licenses will incorporate technologies already in use at the land border for facilitating travelers: vicinity radio frequency identification and a machine-readable zone using the International Civil Aviation Organization standard. This is the same technology that National Institute of Standards and Technology has recently certified to meet standards for security and privacy in the State Department's passport card proposal.

Q: What is the system design for how Real ID information will be shared among states? Will it follow the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators' model for commercial driver's licenses? Computer experts say that if that is the case, it will, in effect, be a national database and national ID program.

Barth: DHS is evaluating the AAMVA model for commercial driver's licenses as a basis for Real ID. The Commercial Driver's License Information System has been operating for years without any documented incidence of abuse or misuse. CDLIS maintains the limited data needed to point to commercial driver's records, which remain, as always, in state DMV databases. If Real ID decides to use CDLIS as a model, DHS will ensure that the security and privacy protections already built into CDLIS will be enhanced to protect the public.

Q: Smart cards, which include microprocessor chips with encryption, are used for Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, the Transportation Worker Identification Credential and other government ID programs. Why isn't Real ID also a smart card?

Barth: The Real ID Act sets minimum standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards.

Although smart cards can incorporate features that enhance the security and privacy of personal information, DHS is not mandating such a large-scale technology transformation of the licenses issued by 55 state and territorial jurisdictions.

The proposed rule does not discourage states from moving to newer, advanced technology solutions, but DHS believes that such a transformation is not justified for the purpose of setting minimum standards for state driver's licenses and IDs.

Q: Does the administration support Sen. Lamar Alexander's (R-Tenn.) $300 million proposal for funding Real ID?

Barth: We support grant funding to support state implementation of Real ID.

Q: Jim Harper at the Cato Institute says Real ID will foster racial tracking.

Barth: There is absolutely no basis for the allegation. Mr. Harper made that assumption based on an element listed in an AAMVA standard for licensing that was not included in the proposed rule. The proposed rule expressly states the minimum data elements to appear on the license, and racial identity is not one of them.

Staff writer Alice Lipowicz can be reached at alipowicz@1105govinfo.com.

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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