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Real ID Act reform legislation introduced in Senate

[JURIST] US Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) [official website] introduced a bill [S 1261 materials; press release] Monday to reform the 2005 Real ID Act [text, PDF; JURIST news archive] and enhance the security of driver's licenses. The Providing for Additional Security in States' Identification Act of 2009 (PASS ID) seeks to implement recommendations from the 9/11 commission concerning standards for the issuance of personal identification and would replace provisions of the Real ID Act with legislation that lessens the burdens on states. The Real ID Act mandates that states issue a federally-approved form of identification, which would become part of a national database and be required for airline travel. Signed into law by former president George W. Bush, the Real ID Act has been opposed by state governments and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] as being too invasive and too expensive to implement. PASS ID attempts to improve the existing legislation by requiring security measures to protect the private information collected and establishes a grant program to defray the states' costs. With these and other improvements, the new bill seeks to significantly reduce the compliance costs of states and allows for more flexibility in satisfying the mandates. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano [official profile] has previously expressed an interest in repealing [press release] the Real ID Act and substituting it with something more practical to implement. Legislation that works against the Real ID Act in some way has been passed by 23 states, and 13 states have enacted measures that completely prohibit participation in the program. ACLU Technology and Liberty Program [advocacy website] counsel Chris Calabrese acknowledged the efforts to improve the Real ID Act but remained opposed [press release] to any action that would revive it, including the PASS ID bill, maintaining that the existing legislation cannot be "fixed." Calabrese expressed concerns about the new legislation causing hardships for legal immigrants and endangering the privacy and safety of victims of domestic violence.

Initially drafted after the 9/11 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. After controversy and opposition, the bill finally passed in 2005 [JURIST report] as part of an emergency supplemental appropriations defense spending bill. The US Department of Homeland Security extended the compliance deadlines [JURIST report] in April 2008 following state opposition to the bill.

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