Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

March 20, 2008

Public speaks out on Real ID

Thanks to spring break, many faculty members and students weren’t on campus last week. But members of the state House of Representatives intergovernmental affairs committee were.

Pitt played host March 13 to the third of five public hearings being held statewide to determine how the state will respond to the federal Real ID Act of 2005, which prohibits federal agencies from accepting as identification state driver’s licenses and identification cards unless they meet more stringent minimum standards.

Unless states comply with the act, their residents’ driver’s licenses would not be accepted as ID for persons boarding commercial airlines or entering federal facilities or nuclear plants. Instead, individuals would need to show a passport or other federally issued ID. The deadline for states to phase in changes and fully comply with Real ID is December 2017.

“Our right to travel within the United States has the potential to be significantly impacted by the Real ID Act,” committee majority chair Rep. W. Curtis Thomas (D-Philadelphia) said. Joined by committee member Rep. Jim Marshall (R-Beaver), Thomas told the audience, “We want to educate people about the Real ID Act because at some point the law in its current form or some amended form is going to impact each and every one of us.”

In addition, Thomas said, he wanted to provide Pennsylvanians with sufficient information to enable them to register their opinions on how the state should deal with Real ID as the committee considers legislation on the issue.

House Bill 1351 was referred to the committee last May. The bill calls for federal funding to meet all costs of implementation and precludes the governor, PennDOT or other state agencies from participating in compliance with the act “until the Department of Homeland Security expressly guarantees, through adequately defined safeguards” that implementation of the act “will not compromise the economic privacy or biometric data” of any Pennsylvania resident.

An equivalent bill, Senate Bill 1220, was referred to the Senate communications and technology committee last December.

If the audience of about 90 people who attended the hearing in the William Pitt Union was any indication, the message to Harrisburg was clear. During the public comment session, many spoke out against Real ID as intrusive, wasteful and unnecessary, while others questioned the government’s ability to keep personal information secure.

A trio of speakers were on the agenda to present testimony: Jeremy Meadows, senior policy director for the National Conference of State Legislatures; Kurt Myers, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation deputy secretary for safety administration, and Neil Berro, spokesperson for the nonprofit Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License.

The Real ID Act of 2005, introduced as HR 1268 in Congress, became Public Law No. 109-13. It “prohibits federal agencies from accepting state-issued driver’s licenses or identification cards unless such documents are determined by the Secretary [of Homeland Security] to meet minimum security requirements, including the incorporation of specified data, a common machine-readable technology, and certain anti-fraud security features.”

It also sets forth minimum standards for issuing the documents that include:

• verification of the presented information;

• proof that the applicant is lawfully present in the United States;

•the issuance of temporary cards to temporary residents that are valid only for their period of authorized stay (or for one year where the period of stay is indefinite);

• notification that the cards may not be accepted for federal purposes where minimum issuance standards are not met, and

• electronic access by all other states to the issuing state’s motor vehicle database.

Licenses and IDs must include the individual’s:

• full legal name;

• date of birth;

• gender;

• license or ID number;

• digital photo;

• address, and

• signature.

The card must incorporate physical security features to prevent counterfeiting or tampering and machine-readable technology with the specified minimum data items.

Homeland Security added the requirement that the cards must include a mark designating the level of Real ID compliance, issue date, expiration date and the state or territory of issuance.

Meadows testified that 44 states considered approximately 145 bills or resolutions related to Real ID in 2007. Of 25 states that passed legislation on the act, 21 passed measures against it. “Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Washington passed laws that strictly prohibit state agencies from complying,” he said. Idaho appropriated zero dollars for Real ID implementation in 2008 and 15 states urged Congress to repeal or amend the act or indicated they intended not to comply, he said.

“Only Indiana and Nevada expressly decided to bring their states closer to compliance, though the Ohio general assembly directed the department of public safety to request an extension for Real ID compliance and Tennessee appropriated funds for Real ID implementation,” Meadows said.

Although May 2008 was an initial deadline for compliance, only Maine,

Montana, New Hampshire and South Carolina have yet to be granted extensions.

“Word from several states — particularly Montana, New Hampshire and South Carolina — is that they will not be reversing their position in opposition to Real ID, but they have requested extensions to delay the travel troubles for their residents,” Meadows said.

This year, as of March 10, 37 bills had been introduced in 19 states, including Pennsylvania.

Committee majority chair Thomas noted that the Department of Homeland Security estimated it would take $3.9 billion to implement Real ID nationwide. An estimate by the National Council of State Legislatures, the National Governors Association and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators in 2006 said states would need to spend $11 billion over five years to comply.

Meanwhile, the federal government has allocated just $90 million to assist states in implementing Real ID, Thomas said.

Meadows said the federal estimates assume that licensees will foot the bill for the new cards at an average additional cost of $8 per license holder nationwide.

PennDOT, whose 102 photo ID centers would bear the responsibility of issuing the IDs, estimated last year that it would cost the state $85 million.

Residents seeking the IDs would need to bring original documents such as Social Security cards, birth certificates and proof of address in person to the PennDOT centers to get the compliant IDs.

Thomas noted that the requirement would be burdensome to the poor, the elderly and the foreign-born. However, if Pennsylvania opts out, “it would cause a monumental inconvenience to its residents,” he said, adding that the state is examining how to meet the requirements of the act without disrupting lives.

Myers said PennDOT is continually upgrading security “to safeguard the integrity of our driver licensing and identification card systems.”

PennDOT recently added new overlay and security features on driver’s licenses and ID cards to reduce the risk of fraud. It also has begun issuing temporary photo ID or licenses valid for 15 days to new drivers or new residents who never have had a Pennsylvania license. During the 15 days, photos are checked using facial recognition technology to ensure the applicant is not already in the PennDOT database with a license or ID issued under another name.

Still, Myers clarified, “Pennsylvania has not committed to participate in Real ID.”

Berro, of the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, commended Pennsylvania’s standards for verifying the identity of drivers’ license applicants as among the most rigorous in the nation, adding that much of the benefit the state will derive from Real ID will be “because other states will have to clean up their act.”

“All too few states have high standards for identity authentication and a handful have no standards for determining lawful presence in the United States. Some states still have no requirement for proof of residence in their states,” he said, noting that Oregon and Maryland have been among the most lax.

“Other states have recognized the risks in accepting Oregon and Maryland drivers’ licenses as identity documents,” he said. “Arizona, Colorado and Nevada all refuse to accept Oregon driver’s licenses for identification purposes, not only at their motor vehicle offices, but also at their state universities and for public benefits.”

Until recently, he said, Oregon had no requirement for lawful presence in the United States or for residency in the state. “Many people have obtained Oregon driver’s licenses over the years with no intention of using them for driving, but instead as identity documents in other states so they could deceive law enforcement about their actual identities or for crime,” he said.

In addition, Maryland “is notorious as a magnet state for people seeking drivers’ licenses and state-issued IDs and it’s good news for Pennsylvania that Maryland’s governor recently agreed to comply with Real ID lawful presence and minimum identity standards within two years.”

Although Pennsylvania has higher driver’s license standards and issues counterfeit-resistant cards, Berro said to stay ahead of the identity thieves and counterfeiters, security standards need to continue to increase. “The new Real ID standards should be viewed as a floor and not a ceiling.”

In the distinct minority as a proponent of Real ID, Berro endured jeers and catcalls from some audience members as he touted compliance with the act. He testified that it would “help prevent identity theft, keep reckless and drunk drivers from getting licenses through fraud, prevent deadbeat dads from hiding under assumed names, prevent welfare and Medicare theft by denying crooks multiple licenses in multiple states and expose sexual predators and other criminals attempting to acquire false identities by defrauding state motor vehicle administrators.”

Improved security elements in IDs, he argued, will reduce underage purchases of alcohol and tobacco, cut financial and credit card fraud and inhibit those who create counterfeit IDs.

The committee will hold a hearing March 27 at the University of Scranton and wrap up May 9 with a hearing in Erie.

Additional information on Real ID is available from the National Conference of State Legislatures at and the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License at

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Leave a Reply