Opinion: Real ID Implementation Misses the Mark

By Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter

Some of you might be familiar with my serious concerns about the REAL ID Act. As the potential expense and disruption of this federal mandate approaches, it's important that all Idahoans be aware of how our state government is approaching the issue. Below is the pertinent text from a letter I sent this week to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff regarding implementation of the REAL ID Act.

Dear Secretary Chertoff,

When Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005, it was in response to the terrifying knowledge that 10 of the eleven hijackers responsible for the tragedies and horrific acts of 9-11 had obtained fraudulent driver's licenses. The primary objective of that legislation was to reduce fraud in existing division of motor vehicle processes and services in the states.

The rules recently released by the Department of Homeland Security bear little resemblance to that objective. Instead they represent a massive unfunded mandate requiring states to invest in systems of identification that will literally cost billions of dollars. We cannot even begin to measure the costs to our way of life in terms of freedom, privacy and mobility -- all fundamental tenets in America today.

The one option that is given to states, which would allow a passport to be a substitute for a REAL ID is, in reality, not an option at all. The current time it takes to get a passport can and does exceed 90 days. Even an expedited passport can take 30 days, and because the person requesting a new passport must relinquish the old one, this option would effectively deny basic services to American citizens for months. This is completely unacceptable.

We therefore call upon the department to refocus the rules on the primary objective of reducing fraud, and to return the concept of REAL ID to one of better security for America's citizens. The states will not participate in the burdensome program that has ballooned out of a noble concept and we will be no closer to better security than we were before the tragic events of 9-11. The final rules must:

1. reflect that the unequivocal first priority of REAL ID must be the preservation of personal freedom, commerce and mobility, while protecting the privacy of our citizens and the security of their personal information;

2. minimize the effect of the implementation of the act on jurisdictions by providing the funding and infrastructure needed and whenever possible;

3. use existing systems to improve processes and services;

4. focus on reducing fraud in known high-risk populations such as foreign nationals, resident aliens and illegal aliens; and

5. provide a way for citizens who have been legally licensed in the United States for a period of time (such as 10 years) to be exempt from the requirements.

The final rules must not prescribe specific technologies that are subject to change.

Thank you for your attention to these matters and your efforts to find a workable solution to the rewriting of these rules.

While we await his response, please keep in mind that Idaho's congressional delegation also is working to ensure that security and fraud prevention are the focus of REAL ID. Secretary Chertoff's response, and the proof that we see through his agency's implementation of the law, will determine Idaho's path forward.