A Dangerous Retreat on “Real ID”

Published: Jul 21, 2009

Author: Array

When the independent, bipartisan Sept. 11 commission issued its report in July 2004, an alarming fact was emphasized: Terrorists need valid identification to board an airplane. The commission asserted that “for terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.” Congress subsequently passed the Real ID Act, which was quickly signed into law by President George W. Bush.

Under that act, states must shift to “secure” driver’s licenses and identification cards by verifying that anyone who asks for a driver’s license or identification card is actually the person he or she purports to be. States are required to verify an applicant’s Social Security number, lawful immigration status and identity.

Despite the fact that a unanimous Senate — including then-Sen. Barack Obama — passed the Real ID Act, several senators recently introduced legislation known as the Pass ID Act, which promises to return the nation to pre-Sept. 11 dangers.

Under the Pass ID legislation, about which the secretary of homeland security testified last week, states would no longer need to verify a person’s identity before issuing a driver’s license or identification card. They would not be required to resolve Social Security number mismatches; nor would they need to ensure the person does not possess duplicate or additional licenses or identification cards issued from other states.

The Pass ID Act would not fine-tune Real ID; it would neutralize or weaken numerous protections that Real ID provides.

So far, 16 states are complying with benchmarks set by the Department of Homeland Security or are on track to comply by the end of this year. States have until 2014 to begin issuing the “secure” driver’s licenses and identification cards and until 2017 for full compliance. Why stop the progress we’ve made?

While developing Real ID, the Bush administration sought and received bipartisan participation. DHS received more than 21,000 comments on the proposed rule and made numerous amendments before issuing the final rule in January 2008. The process was transparent and responsive from beginning to end.

The Sept. 11 commission recognized that a driver’s license is only as good as the information it contains. The ability of terrorists to obtain multiple driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards increases the security threat to America. The implications are clear: Valid driver’s licenses that are issued based on a fraudulently obtained or fake birth certificate exacerbate our national security vulnerabilities.

Congress should not reverse course and ignore the findings of the Sept. 11 commission. Sadly, that is exactly what the Obama administration and a handful of Democratic senators are trying to do.

Lamar Smith is a Republican from Texas. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, authored the Real ID Act. Peter King is a Republican from New York. Darrell Issa is a Republican from California. Reps. Issa, King and Smith are the ranking Republicans on the three House committees that share jurisdiction over the Real ID Act.