[JURIST] US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff [official profile] sent letters to the governors of several states on Monday, urging them to comply with an upcoming deadline to adopt comprehensive driver's license standards to bring their state IDs in line with the requirements of the Real ID Act [PDF text; JURIST news archive]. According to the letter, if holdout states fail to request an extension by the end of March, residents of those states will be unable to board domestic flights using their state IDs beginning in May 2008. Since the REAL ID Act passed in May 2005, several states have passed anti-REAL ID legislation rejecting implementation of the Act. Most recently, Washington passed legislation [JURIST report] with strong support that dictates that the state not spend any money implementing the REAL ID Act unless privacy and security concerns are addressed. Only four states, however, have yet to seek an extension - Maine, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Montana. New Hampshire governor John Lynch wrote to Chertoff [press release] last week to request that "New Hampshire driver's licenses continue to be acceptable as identification by federal agencies for official purposes after May 11, 2008."
Initially drafted after the Sept. 11 attacks and designed to discourage illegal immigration, the REAL ID Act attempts to make it more difficult for terrorists to fraudulently obtain US driver's licenses and other government IDs by mandating that states require birth certificates or similar documentation and also consult national immigration databases before issuing IDs. The law is also meant to make it more difficult for potential terrorists to board aircraft or enter federal government buildings. After controversy and strenuous opposition from civil libertarians [FindLaw commentary], it finally passed in 2005 [JURIST report] as part of an emergency supplemental appropriations defense spending bill. State lawmakers have previously expressed concern [JURIST report] about possible problems expected to accompany the implementation of the REAL ID Act, fearing that they will not be able to comply with the law's requirements before a May 2008 deadline. In March, Homeland Security responded to these concerns by extending the deadline for compliance by 18 months [JURIST report]. In January, the DHS issued a final rule [text; DHS backgrounder] establishing the new minimum standards [press release; JURIST report] for state-issued identification cards. AP has more.