As Bush's ID Plan Was Delayed, Coalition Formed Against It

By Spencer S. Hsu and Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 25, 2007

Inspired by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a sweeping federal law to tighten security requirements for driver's licenses is in jeopardy of unraveling after missteps by Congress and the Homeland Security Department, analysts and lawmakers said.

While Washington has delayed implementing it, a rebellion against the program has grown. Privacy advocates say the effort could create a de facto national ID card. Meanwhile, state officials charge that complying with federal requirements will cost $11 billion and potentially double fees and waiting times for 245 million Americans whose licenses would have to be reissued starting next year.

The issue threatens to turn into a partisan fight. The White House expects to release its driver's license plan, Real ID, this week and has warned congressional critics not to thwart or further delay a program that was recommended by the Sept. 11 commission.

"If we don't get it done now, someone's going to be sitting around in three or four years explaining to the next 9/11 commission why we didn't do it," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the Senate's Homeland Security Committee on Feb. 13.

Critics in both parties will try to delay the launch of the program by offering an amendment to legislation that Senate Democrats are pushing to implement remaining changes suggested by the Sept. 11 commission.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the homeland security panel, said in a statement that Real ID may not provide real security and that it is opposed by states "because it is overly burdensome, possibly unworkable, and may actually increase a terrorist's ability to commit identity theft."

The White House plan, which has been in the works for two years and will take effect in May 2008, standardizes information that must be included on licenses, including a digital photograph, a signature and machine-readable features such as a bar code.

The new rules also will spell out how states must verify applicants' citizenship status, check identity documents such as birth certificates and cross-check information with other states and with Social Security, immigration and State Department databases. Only complying IDs can be used for federal purposes such as boarding airplanes or entering government buildings.

The law is "vital for the protection of the country," said former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean Jr., co-chairman of the Sept. 11 commission. "You can't have 30 different methods of identification to get in and out of the country . . . many of them easily forged, and expect to keep the bad guys out."

All but one of the Sept. 11 hijackers acquired, legitimately or by fraud, IDs that allowed them to board planes, rent cars and move through the country.

Tightening U.S. identification requirements was a focus of both the Sept. 11 commission and the Markle Foundation's earlier bipartisan task force on terrorism. Markle, a New York think tank, focuses on technology policy.

But concern has mounted over Real ID's cost, practicality and impact on privacy and travel.

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