Real ID won't prevent fraud or terrorism

State officials and other experts do not think they will be able to implement tough federal provisions for driver's licenses and personal IDs.

SAN DIEGO – State officials and experts do not think they will be able to implement new federal provisions designed to strengthen driver’s licenses and personal identification cards. They also believe the new security standards will not prevent fraud, counterfeiting or terrorism.

“If you think you’re going to eliminate this, don’t,” said Dan Combs, president of Global Identity Solutions. “That’s a fool’s hope.”

Combs, a former director of the Office of Digital Government in Iowa's Information Technology Department, said it might prevent amateurs from fraudulently producing fake IDs, but professionals who have the money, resources and equipment will still be able to create them.

“If you have a glass front door with a lock on it, you’re going to slow somebody down not keep them out,” said Matthew Dunlap, Maine’s secretary of state.

But Betty Serian, a deputy secretary at Pennsylvania’s transportation department, said the Real ID Act could help motor vehicle departments find motorists who go from state to state to get multiple driver’s licenses. The system would resemble the an established Commercial Driver’s License Information System, which prevents commercial drivers from getting multiple licenses from different states.

Under the Real ID Act, state governments have a three-year period to implement minimum security standards – including biometrics – that the Homeland Security Department has not yet determined. State officials, who were already participating in a separate process to create minimum standards before the new act scuttled it, have worried about implementation costs, customer service and other problems that might emerge.

They said it's unlikely that states will be able to make the deadline and might take much longer.

People who possess a driver’s license or ID that is not compliant with the act will not be allowed to board planes or enter federal facilities. Workers at motor vehicle departments will also have to verify the documents applicants must bring in to prove their identities. So if they bring in a birth certificate, a motor vehicle worker must authenticate the document with the hospital, for example, that issued the document.

Larry Dzieza, budget director for Washington state’s licensing department, said that would mean states would have to contact counties, parishes, hospitals, utility companies and other entities to authenticate documents. In the United States, he said, there are 6,000 birth certificate issuing entities.

During the National Association of State Chief Information Officers annual conference, state officials discussed the issue during a session. They said it’s a reality they have to deal with now, but they still need answers from the federal government.

Dunlap said he believed Congress will revisit some elements of the Real ID Act. But he said Maine is currently facing real problems in terms of long waiting lines. The federal act will only exacerbate that. He also said he is having a hard time envisioning how the 50 states will share information about drivers and others.

“Trying to visualize a 50-state integrated database is quite a remarkable thing to do,” he said. He added that he wonders what else that database could be used for by government officials.

Serian, who is also a member of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, said current driver’s license holders need to be distinguished from providing credentials to new applicants. She said it’s not right to ask a long-time holder of a driver’s license to come into a motor vehicle office and go through the entire process again. Another issue is whether motorists will be able to renew their licenses online.

Dzieza said the Congressional Budget Office originally pegged the cost of implementing the law at less than $100 million nationwide over five years. He said Washington state, which accounts for 2 percent of the population, is looking at a $50 million price tag per year.

“You’re looking at a much bigger number [across the nation] in the billions,” he said.

But panelists said the issue needs to be addressed and that there needs to be a greater state government voice as DHS begins developing the standards.

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