After nearly three years of leaving states to twist in the wind, the Department of Homeland Security released the final regulations for Real ID. The Real ID Act, which became law in 2005, mandates national standards for the issuance of state drivers' licenses. Among the many criticisms leveled at the legislation was the fact that it was passed without having a complete set of rules dictating the details of how, exactly, states were supposed to comply with the law.

On Jan. 11, 2008 -- just 120 days before the law's original compliance deadline -- the DHS issued its final rule on Real ID. The 300-page document pushed back the compliance deadline to 2014 for states working to implement Real ID, and it relaxed the deadline even further -- to 2017 -- for drivers over age 50. But according to several observers, the new rule does little to ease funding and privacy concerns that have prompted numerous states to refuse to comply with the Real ID requirements.

Troubled History

Government Technology first reported on Real ID shortly after President George W. Bush signed it into law in 2005. We revisited the issue in 2007 due to a growing uproar within the states over the DHS's failure to provide clear details about how states were to issue new drivers' licenses. Also high on the list of states' concerns was the glaring omission of federal funds to help pay for what is estimated to be a multi-billion dollar undertaking.

The Real ID Act, according to its authors and supporters, is intended to establish a set of national standards for drivers' licenses to prevent terrorism and reduce security breaches and identity theft. The law came under immediate fire for the aforementioned issues as well as for requiring license-holder information to be available to all 50 states. This, according to critics, amounts to the creation of a national database of citizen information, which many believe is a privacy disaster in the making. Moreover, many opponents decry Real ID as a subversive attempt to establish a system of national ID cards.

Originally states had to comply with Real ID by May 11, 2008. However, by mid-2006, DHS had yet to define the technologies states needed to implement and no funding had been secured. In response, a number of states passed resolutions -- some even passed binding legislation -- to opt out of participation in Real ID -- this despite the fact that without a Real ID-compliant license, a citizen could not enter a federal building or board an aircraft. The revolt prompted DHS to push back the deadlines for deployment and, instead of a "drop-dead" date for implementation, DHS added a rollout window of several years, beginning Dec. 31, 2009 and lasting through 2011.

With the open revolt among states ongoing, many close to the issue hope the latest announcement will help restore order.

"We are still sifting through them to see how they compare with what we've asked for and what kind of changes the department has made," said Jeremy Meadows, senior committee director for the National Conference of State Legislatures' (NCSL) Standing Committee on Economic Development, Trade and Cultural Affairs. "Generally speaking, it does look like they listened. There are some changes we think are very favorable, such as the additional time for re-enrollment and not requiring states to utilize verification systems until they're actually operational."

A Mixed Bag
According to the final regulations, the date for compliance will be extended again, to 2014, for those states that can prove they are actively attempting to get their licenses in compliance

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.