Lawmakers are considering opting Minnesota out of a new federal identity verification system known as REAL ID, because of the expense of the program and data privacy concerns.
It's not a national ID card, as the name may imply, but a national system approved by Congress in 2005 designed to back up the integrity of driver's licenses and other ID cards issued by individual states.
Beginning in 2009 the documents you provide when you apply for a drivers license -- birth certificates, passports, current licenses, etcetera -- must be submitted electronically to a set of national computer databases to confirm their authenticity.
"Your identity will be sifted through all these databases to make sure you are who you are," Senator Mee Moua of Saint Paul told KARE 11 Friday.
In simplest terms a database is a list of names or other information stored in a computer, which is searchable and can be used for cross-checking against other data.
The databases to be employed in the REAL ID system carry a dizzying array of acronyms including IAFIS, NCIC, EVVE, SAVE, CCD, PIERS, and SSOLV which stands for Social Security On-Line Verification.
"The problem is that many of these databases are not yet created," Senator Moua said, "And the only one that's been established, the Social Security database, is not even clean, it's not totally reliable."
The Department of Homeland Security views the system as a part of the overall effort to battle terrorism. The 9-11 highjacker who crashed a jet into the Pentagon reportedly had four drivers licenses and ID cards from three states.
Costly orders from Washington
REAL ID was to become operational in May of 2008, but all 50 states requested and were granted one-year extensions for implementing changes. Now 17 states have formally voted not to comply with the system even when it kicks into gear in 2009.
Senator Moua sponsored a bill to opt Minnesota out of REAL ID, and that provision became part of a larger transportation policy bill now pending in the Senate.
"Security is a valid concern and the federal government ought to be concerned," Senator Mou remarked, "But if the federal government wants to create a national ID system to securitize our nation, then they should pay for it."
As it now stands anyone born after December 1, 1964 will have six years to get a new license that's compliant with the REAL ID system. Those older than that would have 9 years to get a new driver's license issued verified under the REAL ID system.
The state's would be expected to purchase the equipment and software needed to process the documents through the REAL ID system. The start-up expense for Minnesota to get REAL, so to speak, has been pegged at more than $30 million.
"They shouldn't go through the back door and ask the states to pay for this at a time when we're facing budget deficits," she said, "In the end it comes down to a matter of states rights and being handed another unfunded mandate from the federal government."
Moua's bill was amended by fellow legislators to say Minnesota would actually comply with the REAL ID system, but only if the federal government picks up 95% of the tab.
Air travel hassles
It has been widely reported that if you live in a state that doesn't comply with the REAL ID program you won't be able to fly at all on commercial airlines, because the federal government won't recognize your state's drivers license as valid federal ID at airports.
Some journals have even created charts showing the "can't fly" states versus the "can fly" ones. That's not actually the case.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has been quoted recently as saying lack of a REAL ID state driver's license won't keep anyone from flying. It will, however, add extra hassle to getting through airport security.
Travelers without REAL ID driver's licenses should expect to provide other forms of ID such as passports, or go through a second, more rigorous layer of scrutiny by TSA officers. That could include the pat-down and more baggage checks.
"The last thing I want to do is punish citizens of a state who would love to have a REAL ID license but can't get one," Chertoff told CNN in January, "But in the end, the rule is the rule as passed by Congress."
All that data
Even if Uncle Sam were to foot the bill entirely, Senator Moua and her co-sponsors share concerns about the how the government will protect the privacy of the data Minnesota puts into the system.
"There may be 50 John Andersons in the database," she explained, "Once that information on those 50 John Andersons leaves the state of Minnesota we no longer have any jurisdiction to protect that information."
"We've gone to great lengths in this state to protect people's private data, and limit access to it, so why would we want to lose control of that?"
The Department of Homeland Security's media office in Washington DC referred KARE 11's questions to the agency's website, which has volumes of information on how the system would work.
In several places it assures drivers that their private data would be subject to all federal privacy restrictions. It describes a system generally access only by the states that issue drivers licenses.
Pawlenty's not ready to sign
The National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures have also balked at the cost of REAL ID to the states. They've urged Congress to delay implementation, or at the least agree to pay for it.
The pricetag to the 50 states combined has been estimated as high as $11 billion and a low as $4 billion, both far above the $90 million Congress provided.
And, although Governor Tim Pawlenty chairs the National Governor's Association, he's not comfortable with the language in Moua's proposal. In fact, the transportation policy bill was set for a vote Thursday; but was pulled from the docket when Senate leaders began to sense Pawlenty would veto it.
Leaders are hoping for a compromise with the governor on the amount Minnesota would pay to help make REAL ID a reality.
"Any compromise on the REAL ID act is a compromise to take on costs to Minnesotans," Moua said.
(Copyright 2008 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)