Cost and Privacy Concerns Cited In New Rules for Driver's Licenses

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 2, 2007

A law enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to secure U.S. driver's licenses will cost $23.1 billion over 10 years, require motorists born after 1935 to present birth certificates or passports, and add $28 to the cost of issuing each license, officials said yesterday.

Long-awaited rules to implement the law, known as Real ID, did not quell criticism from states, privacy advocates and libertarian groups. They said it represents an unfunded mandate and creates a national ID-card system that will increase the consequences of identity theft.

The 162-page draft regulations "confirm the worst suspicions" of opponents, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). He said Congress should repeal the law and reopen talks with states, technology experts and civil liberties groups rather than risk years of legal challenges.

The 2005 act overhauls how state ID cards and driver's licenses must be awarded and produced to combat forgery and fraud, while standardizing their data so they can be shared across state and federal databases.

The plan would delay from May 2008 to the end of 2009 the deadline for states to begin compliance, but all 245 million U.S. driver's licenses must comply by May 2013 to be used for federal purposes such as boarding aircraft.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that technology will ease, not increase, privacy threats, and that the federal government will not keep a central database of personal information.

"Is it a reasonable amount of money that people should pay to prevent people from getting on airplanes or getting in buildings and killing Americans?" Chertoff asked. "I think most people would say . . . that's $20 well spent."

Associations representing the nation's governors, state legislatures and motor vehicle administrators complained that costs continue to grow, that the 2013 deadline is unreasonable and that more changes are needed.

Opponents from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Cato Institute and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said the rules leave many questions to be answered in a 60-day comment period.

The rules do not propose to encrypt personal data stored in bar codes on licenses, for instance, leaving it accessible to commercial data brokers. Nor do they spell out how systems linking government databases will be built or who will own them. "They can't fix a law that is so fundamentally flawed," Cato official Tim Harper said.

Chertoff said states can spend up to $100 million this year and $37 million next year from U.S. homeland security grants to offset their $14.6 billion share of the tab. State officials say they had other plans for the money.

Seven former U.S. security officials and Sept. 11 commission staffers, led by panel member John F. Lehman Jr., said the United States should pay $1 billion in "up-front costs."

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