committees, no debates on the floor. Nothing."

Many opponents claim that the Real ID Act is, by establishing federal standards for state-issued drivers' licenses, creating a de facto national ID card, or at least a national ID system.

"The United States is getting a national ID card," said Schneier. "The Real ID Act establishes uniform standards for state drivers' licenses, effectively creating a national ID card. It's a bad idea, and is going to make us all less safe. It's also very expensive. And it's all happening without any serious debate in Congress."

Real ID Act supporters object to claims made by Schneier and others, calling the national ID card suggestion a fallacy. According to Lungren, the outrage about the Real ID Act is overblown.

"It's not a national ID card," said Lungren. "All it does is set minimum standards for the issuance of state documents if you want them to be accepted as a form of identification to a federal official."

Lungren points to some state drivers' licenses on which he says the Real ID Act provisions were based.

"California has some of the best standards in the country, along with New York, Florida and Virginia. Those states are very close to the standard. In fact, what they're doing and have been able to do is what the Real ID Act is modeled after."

It should be noted, however, that of the 9/11 terrorists, as many as seven carried Florida drivers' licenses and at least four carried Virginia drivers' licenses, which obviously calls into question the effectiveness of those states' driver's license security measures prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

Some changes to the licenses have taken place, but none that would have prevented the terrorists from obtaining licenses again. Such discussions in both state legislatures were ongoing prior to the passage of the Real ID Act.

Lungren also defended how the Real ID Act made its way through Congress.

"We didn't sneak anything," he said. "These provisions in the Real ID Act hung up the intelligence bill last year for a couple of weeks. They were very much at the forefront -- very much debated. We had a debate during the conference committee with the Senate in negotiations.

"Chairman Sensenbrenner and others talked about these issues. That was in October [2004]. We had an up or down vote on these provisions in the House in February. The Senate chose not to take it up, and it was then attached to the Iraq/Afghanistan supplemental. So there was plenty of debate on these issues. That's what you'll frequently hear. If you can't win on the substance, you complain about the process."

Those on both sides of the issue express strong opinions, and to separate fact from fiction, the legislation's actual requirements must be examined.

After May 11, 2008, federal agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration, will no longer accept state drivers' licenses unless they have the following data included or embedded: the driver's full legal name, date of birth, gender, permanent address, signature, driver's license number and digital photo of the person's face. In addition, the card must include physical security features -- not yet determined -- and be machine-readable by technology that has not yet been defined.

These undefined elements of the legislation give cause for concern, especially because in less than three years, the entire country will have new drivers' licenses.

"I think there are still a lot of questions up in the air," said Schwartz. "You can look at the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators [AAMVA] standards for some of the issues, like 'machine-readability,' and in the Real ID Act, that term is undefined. It uses the term 'digital photograph,' and that's not defined. It says that [states]

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.