RICHMOND | Some legislators want Virginia to join the growing chorus of states that have defied the federal government by refusing to participate in a national identification program billed as a way to fight terrorism and identity theft.
Two pieces of legislation for consideration when lawmakers return to Richmond on Jan. 14 call for Virginia to ignore the federal mandate to come into compliance with the Real ID Act by the end of 2009.
Similar bills went nowhere last year, but supporters say the looming deadline gives the issue new urgency.
“Basically, this statute that I put in is one to let the feds know that, one, the way you’re going about this we have problems with, and two, if you intend to enforce this, we intend to challenge it,” said Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican and one of the sponsors.
Since the law’s enactment in 2005, at least 42 states have considered anti-Real ID legislation, and more than half have passed measures either forbidding their states from participating or urging Congress to amend or repeal the law.
At least five states have gone in the other direction, passing bills bringing their programs into compliance.
Critics say they expect other states to join Virginia this year to fight against Real ID.
The program was born out of the commission that looked into the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It recommended that the U.S. improve its system of issuing identification documents because the hijackers had numerous licenses and state IDs. Congress approved legislation requiring states to issue licenses and ID cards that meet certain security standards.
The new IDs will be required for federal purposes, such as boarding an airplane or entering a federal building. Other federal identification, including passports and military IDs, also will be accepted.
“The bottom line is that citizens of states who do not move forward with the Real ID mandate from Congress will see real consequences,” said Laura Keehner, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, which is in charge of the program.
States had until May 2008 to implement Real ID, but the department extended that until Dec. 31, 2009. If they need more time and have met certain benchmarks, states can request an extension until May 11, 2011.
“The fact that Congress passed this and could not figure out the prudential question of when the states could actually do this tells me that it wasn’t thoroughly vetted,” Mr. Marshall said.
The opposition has centered around cost and privacy concerns.
Homeland Security originally estimated it would cost states $14 billion to implement the program, but in January it loosened the restrictions and said the added flexibility would bring the cost to under $4 billion.
Homeland Security and other agencies have given out about $500 million in grants, but state officials say that’s not enough.
Critics also claim that Real ID diminishes privacy, and they object to a national ID that would have to be shown for everyday identification purposes.
“Certainly people should be identified by high standards when that’s called for, but it’s not called for when you’re going to buy beer,” said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.
“If we’re going to have our identity recorded every time we buy beer or use a credit card or buy gas, that turns into one big surveillance system,” he said.
But Ms. Keehner said the identification cards will increase, not decrease privacy by preventing identity theft.
She said claims that the program creates a national database are incorrect. There is a hub where each state Department of Motor Vehicles will check to ensure that an individual has only one ID, but states will not have access to other states’ data.