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Illinois Takes Step Toward Real ID Compliance

Some driver's license offices will start the transition this week, although officials did not specify which ones.

(TNS) — Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White announced Tuesday that his office will begin upgrading security features this week to driver's licenses and identification cards, a step toward compliance with the federal Real ID law.

By the end of July, applicants will no longer be issued a new permanent driver's license or ID card at the end of the application process at driver's license offices. Instead, they will receive a temporary paper license or ID valid for 45 days, officials said.

Photos of applicants will be submitted into a facial recognition system, and a permanent license or ID will be mailed in about 15 days at no additional fee to the applicant.

"These changes are designed to further enhance our efforts to protect Illinoisans from fraud and identity theft," White said. "These changes are required by the United States Department of Homeland Security to meet the Real ID requirements."

Some driver's license offices will start the transition this week, although officials did not specify which ones. The system will cost the state an additional $8.3 million in vendor and postage costs a year, said Nathan Maddox, White's senior legal adviser. The state plans to use a fund dedicated to driver's license upgrades to pay for the new system.

"We have been making steady progress in implementing Real ID," Maddox said. "We've met approximately 84 percent of the requirements."

Illinois is among 27 states either not in compliance or taking steps to comply with the Real ID Act. Under this act, stricter identification is required to pass through airport security and enter federal buildings. Homeland Security earlier this year postponed the deadline for states to comply to 2018.

Homeland Security also will accept the temporary paper document in conjunction with an old driver's license or ID card to board an aircraft until the permanent card arrives in the mail.

Congress passed the law in 2005 after a 9/11 Commission recommendation to take steps that would make it tougher to counterfeit government-issued IDs.

Critics of Real ID, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have complained that it is a blatant invasion of privacy and would make people vulnerable to identity theft.

Ed Yohnka, director of communications at American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said he believes Illinois and other states have been doing a good job protecting peoples' identities, and switching to a national identification card would do more harm than good.

"Congress ought to pull the plug on this," he said. "It creates a national identification system that puts people at a greater risk of having their identity stolen.

"They talk about this in terms of it being for safety and security, but there is no evidence that it adds any of those things," Yohnka said. "But what we do know is that it creates this powerful dynamic that can be used for surveillance.

"Once you have this national database, the only natural thing to do next is to take it and begin to use it to track people," Yohnka said. "Then you are just creating a huge surveillance system, and that's the real danger."

Yohnka said if Real ID is developed, the government would have the potential to track what people buy and where they go.

White contends the extensive process will rule out and prevent any possible fraud and identity theft before applicants receive their driver's license or ID card.

Applicants will have their photograph taken at a local office and a digital copy will be submitted immediately to Springfield for comparison in a pool of several million digital photos, according to Jim Burns, inspector general for the secretary of state's office.

"We have in Illinois one of the better facial recognition systems in the country," he said.

"Those digital photos will match up in our facial recognition system, and if we have a problem ... it will immediately kick up, whereas the old counter service, they would already be out the door and it might be 48 hours later that you discover a problem with it," Burns said.

Not only does the license use facial recognition, it also has secure parameters because of laser technology engraved into the card versus plastic with preprinted laminate, said Michael Mayer, the director of the driver services department.

"We control that laser document, and it's all done at one secure location instead of 126 other facilities that are out there," Mayer said. "So you don't have the variations, you have the same consistency on that driver's license."

Burns said under the old system, people would leave the counter and walk out with a license, and employees at the driver's license office had to do a lot of work.

"They had to be on their toes in case they saw something that didn't look right," he said. "The equipment at those facilities could produce a good amount of quality documents but could not produce a document anywhere close to the new license that we are going to have under the new system."

©2016 the Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.