Real ID, real problem

"No. Nope. No way."

So exclaimed Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana when asked whether his state would participate in the federal Real ID program.


Frustration with this misguided, expensive and unworkable federal mandate also compelled another governor, Republican Mark Sanford of South Carolina, to call Real ID "the worst piece of legislation I have seen during the 15 years I have been engaged in the political process." If Real ID has any friends in the states, they're not speaking up.

This sentiment is now percolating through the halls of Congress. In recent hearings before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, senators from both sides of the aisle were blistering in their criticism of Real ID. "The massive amounts of personal information that would be stored in state databases that are to be shared electronically with all other states, as well as the unencrypted data on the Real ID card itself, could provide one-stop shopping for identity thieves," said Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, a Hawaii Democrat, at the hearing over which he presided with Republican Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio.


Unfortunately, some folks in Maryland have not yet gotten the message. Opponents of illegal immigration recently staged protests outside Motor Vehicle Administration offices, demonstrating a misunderstanding of Real ID. The erroneous impression that participation in Real ID will prevent illegal immigration or require Maryland to issue driver's licenses only to documented U.S. citizens is also shared by the O'Malley administration.

Before Maryland sinks hundreds of millions of its precious transportation dollars into the Real ID sinkhole, leaders should understand what participation in Real ID will and will not do.

Under the Real ID Act, the federal government requires states to issue uniform driver's licenses - essentially a national ID card - with insecure, unecrypted personal information on machine-readable strips. That means three bad things: huge costs of time and money for Marylanders, an easier task for identity thieves, and less, not more, security for our state.

Real ID will vastly increase the time, travel and expense involved in obtaining a Maryland driver's license. It will require every driver to re-enroll at the MVA. It will require every applicant for a state driver's license to submit original birth certificates and other original source documents in person to obtain or renew a license.

Real ID then requires these documents to be electronically stored in a database accessible to the federal government and every MVA in the country with no established restrictions on access, data sharing or data mining. It will render every Marylander highly vulnerable to identity theft and will subject personal information to misuse and fraud.

Real ID will increase our vulnerability to security threats and fraud at a cost of $4 billion nationwide and over $121.5 million to Maryland. And though it may seem incredible to those who believe Real ID is intended to improve the security of our borders, the one thing it does not mandate is that Maryland require proof of citizenship to obtain a driver's license.

The contradictory and unreal nature of Real ID is driving a rebellion against it by the states. Nine states have enacted laws prohibiting state participation in the program. Ten other states have passed resolutions opposing the program. States refusing to implement Real ID include states with a lawful-presence requirement for their driver's licenses as well as states with no such requirement.

Thankfully, there is a far better alternative. Recently, the National Conference of State Legislatures issued a call to support repeal of Real ID and passage of replacement legislation. The Identification Security Enhancement Act was introduced this year in the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support. That bill would protect privacy, would achieve effective driver's license security, could be implemented more quickly than Real ID and would not cost billions of dollars to be shouldered by the states.


A congressional subcommittee is considering this year's budget for the Department of Homeland Security, which contains $50 million for Real ID implementation. This is a tiny fraction of Real ID's real cost.

Maryland should join other states in saying no to Real ID. Marylanders should urge Gov. Martin O'Malley to end our state's participation in this wasteful and dangerous program and Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski to support the federal reform bill. This failed program should not be allowed to limp along to the next administration.

Real ID may be a real nightmare, but it is one from which we can still wake up.

Cynthia Boersma is legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. Her e-mail at