House backs major shift to electronic IDs

R.A. Hettinga rah at
Fri Feb 11 11:18:40 PST 2005



 House backs major shift to electronic IDs

 By Declan McCullagh

 Story last modified Thu Feb 10 17:46:00 PST 2005

The U.S. House of Representatives approved on Thursday a sweeping set of
rules aimed at forcing states to issue all adults federally approved
electronic ID cards, including driver's licenses.

Under the rules, federal employees would reject licenses or identity cards
that don't comply, which could curb Americans' access to airplanes, trains,
national parks, federal courthouses and other areas controlled by the
federal government. The bill was approved by a 261-161 vote.

 The measure, called the Real ID Act, says that driver's licenses and other
ID cards must include a digital photograph, anticounterfeiting features and
undefined "machine-readable technology, with defined minimum data elements"
that could include a magnetic strip or RFID tag. The Department of Homeland
Security would be charged with drafting the details of the regulation.

 Republican politicians argued that the new rules were necessary to thwart
terrorists, saying that four of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers possessed
valid state-issued driver's licenses. "When I get on an airplane and
someone shows ID, I'd like to be sure they are who they say they are," said
Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, during a floor debate that started

 States would be required to demand proof of the person's Social Security
number and confirm that number with the Social Security Administration.
They would also have to scan in documents showing the person's date of
birth and immigration status, and create a massive store "so that the
(scanned) images can be retained in electronic storage in a transferable
format" permanently.

 Another portion of the bill says that states would be required to link
their DMV databases if they wished to receive federal funds. Among the
information that must be shared: All data fields printed on drivers'
licenses and identification cards, and complete drivers' histories,
including motor vehicle violations, suspensions and points on licenses.

 The Bush administration threw its weight behind the Real ID Act, which has
been derided by some conservative and civil liberties groups as tantamount
to a national ID card. The White House said in a statement this week that
it "strongly supports House passage" of the bill.

 Thursday's vote mostly fell along party lines. About 95 percent of the
House Republicans voted for the bill, which had been prepared by the
judiciary committee chairman, F. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin
Republican. More than three-fourths of the House Democrats opposed it.

 Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat from Washington, D.C., charged that
Republicans were becoming hypocrites by trampling on states' rights. "I
thought the other side of the aisle extols federalism at all times," Norton
said. "Yes, even in hard times, even when you're dealing with terrorism. So
what's happening now? Why are those who speak up for states whenever it
strikes their fancy doing this now?"

 Civil libertarians and firearm rights groups condemned the bill before the
vote. The American Civil Liberties Union likened the new rules to a "de
facto national ID card," saying that the measure would force "states to
deny driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants" and make DMV employees
act as agents of the federal immigration service.

 Because an ID is required to purchase a firearm from a dealer, Gun Owners
of America said the bill amounts to a "bureaucratic back door to
implementation of a national ID card." The group warned that it would
"empower the federal government to determine who can get a driver's
license--and under what conditions."

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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