REAL ID card hearing set at UCD
Controversial federal plan to standardize state driver's licenses to be aired in only national forum on Tuesday.
By Aurelio Rojas - Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, April 29, 2007
Federal officials maintain that standardizing driver's licenses issued by states will improve national security. Opponents warn the proposed regulations would infringe on privacy rights and be exorbitantly costly.
On Tuesday, both sides will have their say when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security holds the nation's only public hearing on the 2005 Real ID Act on the campus of the University of California, Davis.
State officials from throughout the nation are scheduled to attend the four-hour town hall meeting, which begins at 10 a.m in Freeborn Hall.
Implementation of the Real ID Act, signed by President Bush in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, will lay the foundation for a de facto national identity card in a country that historically has been uneasy about such a document.
Final regulations are scheduled to be released sometime this year, giving states until May 2008 to comply. Residents of states that don't comply would not be able to use their licenses as identification when boarding a plane or entering a federal building.
Already two states -- Idaho and Maine -- have opted out, citing cost and privacy concerns. Other states are threatening to do so unless those issues are addressed.
No state is as critical to enactment of the law than California. Federal and state officials say that's a big reason why the state was chosen to host Tuesday's hearing.
There are about 25 million driver's licenses and identification cards issued in California by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The state also has some of the nation's most stringent privacy laws.
Californians can currently renew their licenses twice by mail, theoretically putting off a trip to the DMV for 15 years. But under the proposed Real ID regulations, drivers will have to renew their licenses in person and show proof of residency.
They would be required to present supporting documents, including certified birth certificates, unexpired passports, proof of Social Security numbers and proof of address documents.
DMV Director George Valverde said the proposed regulations would result in a crush of additional 2.5 million visitors to DMV field offices each year. It would also cost the state $500 million to $700 million over five years to comply, he said.
It's uncertain where the money will come from. The Real ID Act allows states to use some of their homeland security funding, but critics say this would increase vulnerability elsewhere.
"California's position continues to be that we believe this is a federal requirement," Valverde said. "Therefore, we are postponing any consideration for state funding, pending (additional) federal funding."
Valverde will deliver the opening remarks at the UCD hearing. He said he will ask Department of Homeland Security officials to phase in the regulations and give states flexibility on deciding which drivers are required to renew their licenses in person.
Real ID requires states to use federal verification systems to check birth certificates, passports, Social Security numbers and ID documents issued by foreign countries. But Valverde said not all these systems exist today.
He said California, which currently requires driver's license applicants to provide only a Social Security number and birth certificate, already "has a pretty high level of security."
But, he said, "we have some serious concerns about how personal information might be treated under the scope of the Real ID Act."
Valerie Small-Navarro, a legislative advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union in Sacramento, fears implementation of the regulations will lead to an increase in identity theft.
"They're creating this interlocking, 50-state database so that a DMV worker in Alabama, or a hacker in Nebraska, would have access to information on someone in California," Small-Navarro said.
The proposed regulations have brought together such strange bedfellows as the ACLU and conservative Eagle Forum, which argue there are insufficient safeguards to protect personal information.
Opponents are concerned that to satisfy the "electronically readable" provision in the law, licenses will be embedded with radio frequency identification chips that are already used in passports.
"We view this not as a slippery slope, but as a large water slide," said Sam Paredes, executive director of the 30,000-member Gun Owners of California, which maintains this technology allows information to easily be copied.
Opponents are lining up behind legislation introduced by U.S. Sens. John Sununu, R-N.H., and Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, that would repeal the Real ID Act's requirement for nationally standardized driver's license data and systems.
The legislation would create a rule-making body -- including representatives of motor vehicle agencies, elected state officials and Department of Homeland Security officials -- to establish minimum standards for states issuing driver's licenses.
Russ Kanocke, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said states and motor vehicle associations were significantly involved in drafting the proposed Real ID regulations.
He said the 60-day public comment period that began with the release of the guidelines on March 9 provides ample time for citizens to air their concerns.
"There's draft regulations that are available for the world to view and comment on in the Federal Register," Kanocke said. "And we encourage anyone with an opinion on Real ID to take advantage of that opportunity to provide their input to the federal government."