DHS secretary choice has mixed record on Real ID

Janet Napolitano, President-elect Barack Obama's choice for homeland security secretary, has had a mixed record as governor of Arizona in enforcing the controversial Real ID program run by the Homeland Security Department.

Napolitano signed legislation to stop the program in her state but was also one of the first promoters of a new state driver's license that would comply with Real ID.

In June 2008, Arizona lawmakers passed legislation that prohibited the state from complying with Real ID, a bill Napolitano signed. At least nine other states have passed bills that bar Real ID, and more than a dozen have approved resolutions or statutes that reject aspects of Real ID.

But in August 2007, Napolitano was one of the first governors to reach an agreement with DHS to produce hybrid driver’s license/border crossing identification cards to be used as substitutes for U.S. passports at the land border between the United States and Mexico.

The so-called enhanced driver’s licenses have radio frequency tags that can be read from about 20 to 30 feet away for quick processing in border lanes. They are designed to comply with Real ID requirements.

“Arizona’s new driver’s license is poised to be one of the nation’s first to comply with Real ID requirements,” a DHS news release said in August 2007.

Congress passed the Real ID Act in 2005 to tighten standards for driver’s licenses. It requires states to adopt federal standards for handling drivers’ personal information and to share that information with other states.

Elected officials have criticized Real ID as an unfunded mandate with a cost the National Governors Association estimated at $11 billion. Privacy advocates have highlighted the risks of privacy loss and identity theft potentially resulting from the large-scale collection and wide distribution of personal information.

DHS officials granted states extensions to the original compliance deadline of May 2008, pushing it to Dec. 31, 2009. After that, travelers at U.S. airports must show U.S. passports or Real ID-compliant identification cards.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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