Panelists spar over national, mandatory ID cards

Technology experts discuss the REAL ID Act, a 2005 law that requires states to modernize their ID systems by a 2008 deadline.

Policy watchers and technology industry members on Thursday sparred over the implementation of federally mandated standards for identification cards and driver's licenses.

At a roundtable discussion hosted by the Congressional Internet Caucus, a panel of technology experts traded barbs over the REAL ID Act, a 2005 law that requires states to modernize their ID systems by a 2008 deadline. Under the law, citizens will have to have federally approved IDs to travel on airplanes or access some types of federal services, such as Social Security.

Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and John Sununu, R-N.H., last week introduced a bill to repeal REAL ID. Their proposal would have replaced the law with language from a 2004 intelligence act that established a rulemaking process to examine standards for driver's licenses and ID cards. The senators are expected to file the bill again in the 110th Congress.

Jennifer Kerber of the Information Technology Association of America said the approach proposed by the bill is sensible. She said REAL ID, which was part of an $82 million military spending bill in 2005, killed the rulemaking process initiated by the intelligence law.

Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, said REAL ID requires state and local governments to invest a lot of money into ID cards that will not necessarily make people more secure. He said ID-based security is "incredibly risky and incredibly flimsy."

Harper cited a study issued jointly this fall by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Governors Association. The study estimated that it will cost states $11 billion over the next six years to comply with REAL ID.

Dan Bailey, a senior research analyst at RSA Laboratories, also said he expects that REAL ID will impose a heavy financial burden on the states. But he said the cost of compliance will decline over time as technologies used for IDs become cheaper.

Lawmakers in New Hampshire were only a few votes shy this past spring of making the Granite State the first in the country to reject REAL ID. State Rep. Neal Kurk, the author of the failed anti-REAL ID bill, said earlier this fall that he intends to introduce the measure again when the legislature reconvenes next year.

But Meg Hardon of Infineon Technologies, a computer chip manufacturer that produces "smart card" contactless applications, said policymakers also should be mindful of the costs of not having a secure ID system.

Harper said the REAL ID debate should not be over whether to have an over-arching national ID system or no ID system at all. Instead, he said lawmakers should focus on building ID systems that serve specific uses for specific purposes.

The panel also examined several other ID technology-related issues on Thursday, including the use of radio-frequency technologies in e-passports and pass cards as part of federal programs to bolster security and speed travel at points of entry into the United States.

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