IT central to debate over Real ID, PASS ID

Need for costly new IT systems debated

Backers of a proposed program to make driver’s licenses and identity cards more secure say their plan should replace the existing Real ID Act of 2005 that many states have resisted partially due to expensive investments in information technology.

States have complained about provisions of the Real ID law that require them to upgrade their driver's license programs with new technology at their own expense. Real ID requires states to store data electronically and make it accessible to other states.

Advocates of the alternative plan, Providing for Additional Security in States' Identification Act (PASS ID), testified today before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that their plan would be cheaper and more workable for the states, but would still improve security. Critics say the proposal doesn’t go far enough to improve the security of identification documents, as recommended by National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who supports the proposed changes, testified that Real ID’s requirement that states adopt new technologies to verify identity source documents electronically is too rigid. Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona, said under the current rules, states would need to spend an estimated $1.5 billion to update their systems and to electronically verify applicants’ information.

The National Governors Association also supports changing the IT requirements of Real ID. David Quam, director of federal relations for NGA, testified that PASS ID would reduce costs by killing requirements that states use systems for verifying vital records, passport information and sharing identification information with each other.

NGA estimates implementing PASS ID would cost a total of about $2 billion, compared to about a total $3.9 billion for Real ID under the current requirements.

However, Stewart Baker, who served as the Homeland Security Department's assistant secretary for policy during the George W. Bush administration, supported the requirements of Real ID. He testified the PASS ID bill should be amended to include requirements that states verify the validity of birth certificates and other similar identity documents.

Baker said it was relatively inexpensive to check those documents for validity, and several states are already doing so.

Ari Schwartz, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the PASS ID legislation would mitigate privacy problems caused by Real ID. However, he said privacy protections could be strengthened if some aspects of the PASS ID bill’s requirements were changed.

However, Chris Calabrese, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Technology and Liberty Program, said in a statement that PASS ID has the same privacy, constitutionality and security problems as Real ID. The ACLU said in a statement that it had joined 23 other civil-liberties groups to urge the repeal of Real ID and the rejection of PASS ID.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the committee’s chairman and ranking member, noted problems with the current Real ID law, but outlined aspects of the PASS ID bill that need further examination. Lieberman said he hopes to have the committee to consider the PASS ID Act before the end of July.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image: looking for code.

    How DOD embraced bug bounties -- and how your agency can, too

    Hack the Pentagon proved to Defense Department officials that outside hackers can be assets, not adversaries.

  • Shutterstock image: cyber defense.

    Why PPD-41 is evolutionary, not revolutionary

    Government cybersecurity officials say the presidential policy directive codifies cyber incident response protocols but doesn't radically change what's been in practice in recent years.

  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group