New bill seeks to replace Real ID with PASS ID

Critics say the new program won't solve problems

A bill that proponents say could revitalize the moribund Real ID program would remove expensive and controversial information technology requirements from current legislation. Critics said the new measure would not solve the problems they see with the program, however.

Private matters

Some The PASS ID bill for driver's license security includes several privacy protection measures.

  • States would no longer be required to create a database to store driver's license information and share it with other states.
  • Social Security numbers and other private information would not be stored in the machine-readable part of the license.
  • The machine-readable portion of the card would be used only for law enforcement purposes, not for marketing.

Source: Federal Record, June 15, 2009

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) introduced the bill June 15. It essentially replaces Real ID with a new program, commonly referred to as PASS ID. Real ID, passed in 2005, requires states to upgrade their driver's licensing programs with new technology at their own expense. The law's goal is to increase the amount of data states collect on licensed drivers. It also asks states to store that data and electronically share it.

Many states have resisted and instead enacted laws refusing to put Real ID in place, primarily because of the costs that the law requires them to incur. Meanwhile, privacy advocates complain that Real ID poses risks to privacy and increases the chance of identity theft.

PASS ID would repeal the Real ID requirement that states give one another access to databases that contain personal information. States have said the IT upgrades they would need to perform to fulfill that requirement would be costly.

The National Governors Association expressed approval for Akaka's bill, saying it would eliminate the need to develop "costly new data systems that raise significant privacy and cost concerns without increasing security." NGA helped develop the bill.

Akaka and the bill’s proponents say the PASS ID measure addresses worries about privacy and the security of personal information by requiring procedures to prevent unauthorized access to records, deferring to state privacy laws, and establishing a redress process through which people can correct mistakes in their records.

“These databases could provide one-stop shopping for identity thieves and the backbone for a national identification database,” Akaka said. “PASS ID addresses those privacy and costs concerns while providing the ID security called for by the 9/11 Commission.”

The legislation would fund a Homeland Security Department pilot program for sharing driver’s license information among states to evaluate the costs, necessary governance, security and privacy for such an electronic system. However, the PASS ID bill specifically states that a national database of license or ID information is not authorized .

However, some privacy advocates say the program cannot be fixed. The American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement that Akaka's bill offers some important privacy protections but not enough to justify continuing the program. 

“Senator Akaka is right in his efforts to eliminate a substantial number of the more problematic aspects of Real ID, including the creation of a national database of driver information and misuse of license information by the private sector,” Chris Calabrese, counsel of the ACLU Technology and Liberty Program, said in a statement. “But while these attempts at improvement are commendable, Real ID cannot be fixed, and we oppose anything that would revive it.”

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a sponsor of the original Real ID legislation, urged against adopting the proposal. He issued a statement in which he called PASS ID a smoke screen and said it would lower security standards to the level they were before the 2001 terrorist attacks.

However, PASS ID has earned praise from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who as governor of Arizona signed legislation in 2008 that refused to put in place the Real ID requirements. DHS also helped guide Akaka's legislation.

“What PASS ID does is take the principles underlying Real ID and, in a bipartisan way working with the nation’s governors, transform them into something that they can actually put into effect in the states — that’s the real difference between PASS ID and Real ID,” she said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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