Napolitano debates Real ID

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As governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano was no fan of the Real ID program that sets federal standards for state-issued driver’s licenses which will be required in the future to board airplanes.

Now that she is Homeland Security secretary and overseeing the department that governs the contentious law, Miss Napolitano says she wants to examine “realistic options” with the officials who must put the program into action - the nation’s governors.

Specifically, Miss Napolitano said she is looking at Washington state’s modified version of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative program. The Pacific state issues security-enhanced driver’s licenses that are accepted for crossing into the state from Canada.

In addition to Arizona, more than a dozen states have passed legislation prohibiting the implementation of the Real ID program, and similar legislation passed by the Virginia House and Senate last week is awaiting Gov. Tim Kaine’s signature.

“Governors are committed to improving the security and integrity of state driver’s licenses and identification systems, but the timelines and requirements mandated by Real ID are unrealistic,” the National Governors Association (NGA) says in its policy position paper.

The NGA calls the program an unfunded mandate of $11 billion over five years that its members cannot afford.

Miss Napolitano said Real ID will be the focus of conversation when she drops by the NGA’s winter meeting this weekend. She said governors need options to make identification more secure, but not necessarily “under the rubric of Real ID.”

“Enhanced driver’s licenses give confidence that the person holding the card is the person who is supposed to be holding the card, and it’s less elaborate than Real ID,” Miss Napolitano said.

According to the NGA, the Department of Homeland Security secretary should be granted the flexibility to recognize innovation at the state level.

“Several states have updated their systems to meet objectives similar to those of Real ID,” the paper said.

Washington created its own pilot program as an alternative to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requirements put in place in January of last year, that required American citizens re-entering the U.S. from Canada, Mexico and Bermuda to present a passport.

The enhanced driver’s license requires proof of citizenship, identity and residence and contains certain security features similar to a passport.

The Real ID program requires the state to implement 18 security standards, from the physical security of the card itself such as holograms and digital photos, as well as the process of how licenses are issued. For example, these advanced photos would be taken before the paperwork is begun on a license, so if the person provides false information and the license is denied, officials would have a picture of the person.

A process would also be in place to ensure multiple licenses have not been issued to a person from another state, and checks for legal immigration status.

Marcia Hofmann, staff attorney for the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), said they are impressed that the new administration is commitment to protect civil liberties, and that they will be watching for concrete actions that reflect that commitment.

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