Saturday, July 18, 2009 | 2:06 a.m.
Since the Real ID Act was passed by Congress four years ago, criticism of this legislation to increase the security of driver’s licenses has arisen from many sources, including state governments, privacy groups and travel agents.
The federal law was passed as a response to 9/11. Its purpose was to prevent terrorists from easily obtaining false licenses, enabling them to set up bank accounts, rent living quarters and otherwise blend into American society unnoticed.
Although its intention was good, the Bush administration followed its usual pattern — quickly writing legislation and pushing it through a Republican-controlled Congress without thinking much about problems that could arise.
The National Governors Association has endorsed an alternative to Real ID that is backed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. She was governor of Arizona when that state, along with many others, protested Real ID as too expensive and unworkable from technical and privacy standpoints.
Such protests led the Bush administration to essentially punt by delaying implementation of the law until a new administration took office.
The Obama administration clearly supports the alternative, known as Pass ID, short for Providing for Additional Security in States’ Identification Act. Testifying this week before the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee, Napolitano said, “I urge this committee to mark up Pass ID promptly so it can be considered by both houses of Congress and signed into law this calendar year.”
She assured the committee that Pass ID would be as secure as Real ID, with the difference that it has the strong support of state and federal law enforcement agencies and bipartisan support among state officials and members of Congress. Additional benefits, she said, include lower costs, more flexible technical requirements for states and added privacy protections.
The extensive, bipartisan work that has gone into Pass ID is impressive. Napolitano’s hope that the bill will be passed this year should be taken seriously by Congress. A national standard for issuing driver’s licenses, one that has widespread support, would make this country more secure.