Four years ago, President Bush signed a law requiring states to create driver's licenses that meet national standards, store related information in nationally connected databases and foot the bill for most of this nearly $4-billion project. Now, after the 2005 Real ID Act has alienated state governments and privacy advocates alike, the federal government is considering a replacement measure called Pass ID that it hopes will improve national security while being less expensive and less intrusive on privacy.

With half of all U.S. states having passed legislation to reject participation in Real ID and lacking a plan for implementing the program by its December 31 deadline, the Security Industry Association (SIA) and the Document Security Alliance (DSA) held an online briefing Wednesday to explain the differences between Real ID and its proposed successor. SIA is a trade association representing makers of security technology, whereas DSA was created by government agencies, private industry and academia to identify ways of improving security documents to combat fraud and terrorism.

"Pass ID is an attempt to create a program that states will actually use," Kathy Kraninger, deputy assistant secretary for policy in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Screening Coordination Office, said during the briefing. "Real ID said, 'You have to do it, but we're not really sure how you're going to do it.'" To date, Congress has appropriated only $150 million to assist states with implementation of Real ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

The Real ID Act passed in May 2005 tacked onto a bill to fund American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. It imposed security, authentication and issuance procedures standards for the state driver's licenses and state ID cards so that the Homeland Security Department could use these forms of identification to monitor passengers boarding airline flights and people entering federal buildings as well as nuclear power plants. Critics have said that Real ID essentially creates a national ID card and makes citizens vulnerable to identity theft and privacy invasion.

Pass ID is expected to retain many elements of Real ID, such as requiring a digital photograph, signature and machine-readable features such as a bar code, The Washington Post reported in June. States also will still need to verify applicants' identities and legal status by checking federal immigration, Social Security and State Department databases. One concern is that states, after footing the bill to set up these national ID programs, may also have to pay ongoing fees to continue accessing these databases (anywhere from five to 50 cents per transaction), Molly Ramsdell, senior policy director of the NCSL's state-federal relations division, said during Wednesday's briefing.

But Pass ID would eliminate the need for states to create new databases linked through a national data hub that would allow all states to store and cross-check such information, according to the Post. Pass ID would also cut the requirement that motor vehicle departments verify birth certificates with originating agencies.

If Pass ID becomes law, Homeland Security would have nine months to write new regulations, and states would have five years to reissue all licenses, with completion expected in 2016. (The Real ID program would have achieved this by the end of 2017.)

Image © Boris Yankov