Federal ID card standards draw harsh criticism

Standards proposed by the Homeland Security Department for secure drivers licenses and identification cards issued by all 50 states are drawing fire from state officials.

The regulations, mandated by the 2005 Real ID Act, could end up posing a threat to personal and national security, said the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and the California Department of Motor Vehicles in comments on the proposed rules. They said that under the new system, counterfeiters would only need to concentrate on one license standard, rather than 50.

The Real ID Act also requires that states provide other states with access to their databases, which the California DMV said could result in an interconnected virtual database of the 242 million driver's licenses in the country that would be a prime target for hackers and criminals.

Congress approved the Real ID Act as a part of an emergency war supplemental and tsunami relief bill signed by President Bush two years ago this month.

It is focused on improving security by requiring an approved form of identification for travel on commercial airline flights and entrance to federal facilities and nuclear power plants. It is intended to prevent terrorists from fraudulently obtaining government-issued ID cards.

Since its passage, the Real ID Act has attracted a firestorm of criticism from privacy advocates, members of Congress and state and local officials. Several states have rejected the act's provisions, including Maine, Idaho, Montana and New Hampshire.

DHS released its Real ID proposed rules for public comment on March 9 and had received 3,255 comments when the comment period ended Tuesday. The bulk were from private individuals and, based on a random survey by Government Executive of 300 comments, they were overwhelmingly negative.

Only one of the responses in the random survey endorsed the development of a Real ID system, while the others castigated DHS, Congress and President Bush for pushing development of what the respondents viewed as development of a de facto national ID card.

The National Governors Association, the California DMV and the AAMVA used their comments to highlight the flaws in the proposed DHS rules and the financial burden they will impose on the states, which AAMVA called "at least a $23 billion unfunded federal mandate."

Security of the new ID cards -- which DHS says must include a digital photo and personal identification information both printed and stored in a magnetic, machine-readable strip on the card -- is a key concern of both the AAMVA and the California DMV. AAMVA said in its comments that DHS should not mandate a specific security configuration for the card but instead issue performance requirements which states can use to develop their own cards.

AAMVA said requiring that all state-issued driver's licenses and ID cards conform to a specific security configuration "could introduce new security vulnerabilities rather than protect the driver's license and identification card against fraud." The organization added, "If all drivers licenses and identification cards have the same basic configuration, counterfeiters will only need to overcome one configuration to counterfeit any jurisdiction's card."

Bruce Schneier, a security consultant, agreed with this analysis and told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday that "the first problem is the card itself. No matter how unforgeable we make it, it will be forged. The new U.S. $20 bill was forged even before it was released to the public. We can raise the price of forgery, but we can't make it impossible."

The DHS Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee, an outside group whose members include Joseph Alhadeff, chief privacy officer at Oracle Corp., Joanne McNabb, head of the Office of Privacy Protection at the California Department of Consumer Affairs, and Kirk Herath, chief privacy officer at Nationwide Mutual Insurance, sharply criticized the lack of privacy protection in the proposed Real ID rules. The committee said in its comments that the proposed regulation does not establish a uniform standard for protecting the storage of personally identifiable information and does not establish a security standard for the states to follow.

While AAMVA and the states contend that the data contained on a magnetic strip on a driver's license should be unencrypted so it can be scanned by a police officer engaged in a traffic stop, DHS said this data needs to be encrypted to prevent commercial entities from scanning the card and "exploiting" the information contained on the magnetic strip.

The NGA said in its comments that the proposed rule could have a harsh effect on any person who chooses not to drive or obtain a Real ID card. Such people could be prohibited from access to federal buildings and post offices, and be prevented from voting in federal elections, NGA said.

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