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US Issues National ID Standards, Setting Stage for a Showdown

Matthew L. Wald - The New York Times

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    Washington - The federal government issued national standards on Friday that states would have to meet in order for driver's licenses they issue to qualify as identification at airports and federal buildings, setting the stage for a confrontation with states that have voted not to cooperate.

    Under a measure known as Real ID legislation, the states must comply by May 11, the third anniversary of the measure's enactment, or obtain a waiver from the Department of Homeland Security.

    Meeting the May 11 deadline is impossible because the regulations have been delayed so long, but Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, said Friday that his department would issue a waiver to states that promised to comply later.

    He laid out a very long schedule, with the final deadline in December 2017, more than 16 years after the events that prompted the law, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

    Several states have voted not to comply. One is Washington, where the chairwoman of the Senate's transportation committee, when asked what difference the new federal rules would make, said, "None."

    The Washington Legislature is to begin a special session on Monday but it will be brief, said Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, the chairwoman.

    "It's very unrealistic of the federal government to think that states that are not in session or in a short session can resolve this in a short time frame," she said. "Our state has said we will not spend money on the Real ID unless they fund it, and I don't see any money coming from the federal government."

    In Washington and elsewhere, state lawmakers have complained that the requirements add up to a national identification card, that it is too costly, puts privacy at risk and poses severe technical challenges.

    The Legislature in Maine overwhelmingly passed a resolution last January vowing not to comply. The Legislature there is in its "short session" and can take up only legislation that all the leadership decides is an emergency, said Peggy Schaffer, chief of staff to the Senate majority leader.

    Ms. Schaffer predicted that pressure from the airlines might force the federal government to reverse itself.

    The airlines, in fact, are worried, because travelers with driver's licenses from states that do not have a waiver would have to use a passport or a military ID, or face additional screening, including a pat-down.

    "This has the potential to be hugely problematic," said David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, a trade association of the major carriers. "It appears as if the Department of Homeland Security is placing the burden on the traveling public for a state's inability to comply."

    Exactly how many states will decide not to apply for waivers is unclear. Arkansas, Idaho, Montana and others have voted against the program, which was a central recommendation of the Sept. 11 Commission.

    States would have to require applicants for new licenses or renewals to prove they are legally in the country, and then record and verify the documents.

    Opponents have complained that passports and Social Security cards are easy to verify promptly, but birth certificates, issued by thousands of jurisdictions, are not.

    While some states are in revolt, others were moving to tighten their licensing standards even before Sept. 11. And some advocates say that tighter controls would help prevent identity theft and drunken driving.

    "We can kill three birds with one stone if we get ourselves on a path to a secure driver's license," Mr. Chertoff said.

    Civil libertarians counter that the new licenses must have all the information encoded into a machine-readable bar code. These will be read by retail stores, hotels and other companies, the American Civil Liberties Union predicted, creating powerful intrusions of privacy.

    Barry Steinhardt of the A.C.L.U. predicted that the program would never take effect. By setting deadlines so far in the future, he said, the administration had "kicked the can down the road" to the next one.

    The schedule released Friday calls for compliant licenses for everyone under 50 by May 11, 2014, and for those 50 and over, by Dec. 1, 2017.

    The Homeland Security Department decided this would lower costs, according to Mr. Chertoff. He called it "risk management," saying older people were less likely to be terrorists.

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