(by Monisha Bansal, Jan. 14, 2008, CNSNews.com) – The Department of Homeland Security rolled out its final regulations Friday for the REAL ID program and delayed the deadlines for states to comply with the law. Critics, however, say the law cannot be implemented effectively and should be abandoned.

“One of the biggest concerns we’ve had over the last several years and continue to have at the Department of Homeland Security is how we promote a secure form of identification across America,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Friday.

The REAL ID Act of 2005 mandated that by December 2009 states comply with a set of federal standards for driver’s licenses and maintain a database that can be accessed by other states. The new timeline would delay full implementation until 2017.

According to Chertoff, under the rule, people seeking driver’s licenses must provide to their state department of motor vehicles documents that prove they are in this country legally. The department of motor vehicle offices must then verify that the documents they are presented with are legitimate. The “licenses issued by states must meet … specific standards that will make it much harder to counterfeit or alter a secure driver’s license,” said Chertoff.

This will help defend Americans against terrorists, illegal immigrants and identity thieves, he added.

“It happens to be a very good way to prevent illegal immigrants from pretending to be American citizens so that they can work illegally in this country,” said Chertoff. “Identity fraud among illegal immigrants is a serious problem. It harms the legal worker, it deceives the honest employer, and it destroys the good credit of innocent Americans every year.”

Chertoff added that states which opt out of the program may become “magnets” for illegal immigrants, because their driver’s licenses may be less secure and won’t be recognized by the federal government.

States that have decided to opt out of the program and have not filed for an extension will not have their IDs recognized by the federal government after May 2008.

But Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said “the deadline for REAL ID was moved back primarily to give the Department of Homeland Security more time to coax, cajole, and coerce states into implementing their national ID system.”

“Seventeen state legislatures have either registered their objections or outright refused to participate in this national ID system,” he told Cybercast News Service .

He added that it is a “huge mandate, requiring states to remake their DMVs into Citizen Registration Bureaus. I think people don’t want there to be a national ID in the United States, and it doesn’t do much to solve the shifting set of problems the DHS claims it solves.”

Dan Verton, founder of Homeland Defense Week , however, told Cybercast News Service , “This is not a de facto national ID because we don’t have a national ID card. The Real ID Act is only adding to what many states are already doing in terms of digitizing records and ensuring legal status.”

Chertoff also refuted claims that the act is an unfunded mandate.

“We’ve been able to reduce implementation costs to the states by approximately three-quarters,” he said. “That is going to be with a great amount of flexibility for their own business processes.”

“At the end of the day, we estimate that the average actual cost for issuing a Real ID license is about $8 per license,” said Chertoff, noting that the cost would average about $2 per year for most Americans.

“I know I speak for most Americans when I say that $2 is a very small price to pay for increased confidence that you’ll be safe when you get on an airplane or when you walk into a federal building, or confidence that your identity is not going to be stolen by somebody else, or confidence that illegal immigrants are not going to be able to pretend to be Americans by using phony documentation,” he said.

Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Program on Technology and Liberty, however, said Congress should repeal the REAL ID Act, calling it an “avoidable train wreck.”

“What the Department of Homeland Security has done is to kick the can down the road to the next administration, and conceivably two or three administrations from now,” Steinhardt said during a conference call briefing with reporters.

“This is going to be impossible to implement, and secondly, it’s going to be a nightmare for license holders, and they don’t want to suffer the fallout,” he said.

“Most of these objections are really grounded in misinformation,” Chertoff countered. “I think that at the end of the day there is no argument in favor of insecure identification.”

He noted that the program will not create a national database and “the steps that we are taking will protect privacy rather than degrade and impair privacy.”

Chertoff added that he wished he “could have gotten this done last year,” but “I think we’ve given it a fair process – we’ve probably given it too much time – but I think the time has come to bite the bullet and get the kind of secure ID that I’m convinced the American public wants to have.”

All original CNSNews.com material, copyright 1998-2007 Cybercast News Service. Reprinted here with permission from CNSNews. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.


1.  Who is Michael Chertoff?

2.  a) Define mandate.
b)  What did the REAL ID Act of 2005 mandate?
c)  What new deadline has been set by the Department of Homeland Security for states to comply with the law?

3.  a) Under the REAL ID Act, what will a person applying for driver’s licenses have to do, according to Mr. Chertoff?
b)  How will the REAL ID Act help make the U.S. more secure?  Be specific.

4.  What problem does libertarian Cato Institute have with the Act, according to Jim Harper?

5.  How did Dan Verton, founder of Homeland Defense Week (now known as Homeland Security Television), defend the REAL ID Act?

6.  For what reasons does the ACLU oppose the REAL ID Act?

7.  In response to concerns about the Act, Mr. Chertoff said:

“Most of these objections are really grounded in misinformation. I think that at the end of the day there is no argument in favor of insecure identification.”  He also noted that the program will not create a national database and “the steps that we are taking will protect privacy rather than degrade and impair privacy.” (para. 20-21)

Do you support or oppose the REAL ID Act?  Explain your answer.  Then discuss your position with a classmate.  Is your support for your position legitimate?

  • Read arguments against the REAL ID Act at the (libertarian) Cato’s website here.
  • Read arguments for the REAL ID Act at the (conservative) Heritage Foundation’s website here.


THOMAS is a Library of Congress website that makes federal legislative information freely available to the public. Read the entire REAL ID Act law at THOMAS here.

Read about the REAL ID Act at the Department of Homeland Security website here.

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