Border states to test hybrid IDs

But experts say the ID tests won’t resolve problems in creating national standards

Border states are piloting secure identification programs so that their residents won’t be turned away at borders when major national identification programs are launched.

However, some experts argue that the new programs are either hot air or a signal that Homeland Security Department programs for securing the borders and creating nationally standardized identification may be in jeopardy.

Arizona and Vermont recently announced that they would pilot new hybrid driver’s licenses and identification cards as an alternative to using passports when their residents cross the border.

The two state pilots bring together aspects of two federal programs, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which will require U.S. and Canadian citizens to provide a passport to exit and enter the U.S. starting in 2008, and the Real ID Act, in which DHS will develop a hybrid identification card that combines a state driver’s license with a U.S. border-crossing card.

Under the latest agreements, Arizona and Vermont will partner with DHS in the development of an “enhanced” — and more costly — driver’s license that is expected to meet the department’s WHTI requirements and align with future driver’s license requirements of the Real ID Act.

The hybrid driver’s license will contain proof of identification — such as confirmation of residence and U.S. citizenship — and security features similar to a passport.

“We’ll be able to provide this more reasonable option for Vermonters who travel frequently to Canada,” said Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas.
In March, Washington became the first state to announce a hybrid ID program in partnership with DHS. The state is expecting a big upswing in normal border travel in the next few years, for the 2009 World Police and Fire Fighter Games and 2010 Winter Olympics, which will be held in neighboring British Columbia, Canada.

DHS spokesman Russ Knocke said that the department is “simply gratified and quite pleased” with the states that want to push ahead with hybrid pilots and hoped that this would lead to further adoption of Real ID initiatives.

The Real ID program has been controversial because of its $11 billion price tag as well as concerns about privacy and security of personal information. Some states pushed anti-Real ID legislation this year, but all attempts eventually failed.

Some experts believe that the new pilots give states a good chance to get comfortable with new identification systems.

“By harmonizing Real ID and WHTI requirements, DHS is taking a step that will give these border states what they want and make many of their concerns about Real ID disappear,” said Jeremy Grant, senior vice president and identity solutions analyst at the Stanford Group.

However, Neville Pattinson, director of government affairs and marketing, identity and security at Gemalto, said that any judgment about the potential success of the state pilots would be premature.

“None of the trials have gotten anywhere,” he said, noting that Washington officials have yet to set standards for their pilot and that the Vermont and Arizona programs are “just discussion” at this stage.
Randy Vanderhoof, executive director at the Smart Card Alliance, went further, criticizing the pilots as “an indicator that the WHTI program as a whole is in trouble,” and that DHS is avoiding setting standards of its own.

In partnering with states, DHS is “really passing their difficulties in terms of defining a good, secure architecture for citizen identification cards onto the states and making it the states’ responsibility,” he said. “The federal government doesn’t have the capability to deliver a passport alternative.”

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