Montana Takes Lead In Revolt Against Real ID

Eric Kelderman, Pew Research Center, April 18, 2007

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Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) signed legislation April 17 that bans the Montana Motor Vehicle Department from enforcing the national rules, which set uniform security features for driver’s licenses and require states to verify the identity of all driver’s license applicants.

Schweitzer said the Real ID law is another way for the federal government to stomp on residents’ personal privacy. “Montanans don’t want the federal agents listening to their phone conversations, rifling through their papers, checking on what books they read and monitoring where they go and when. We think they ought to mind their own business,” he said in a written statement.

The state of Washington is poised to follow with a similar bill awaiting Gov. Christine Gregoire’s (D) signature.

In all, 30 states have passed or are considering proposals condemning the license standards. State lawmakers have railed at the costs and deadlines imposed on states, at federal intrusion into what had been a state responsibility and the specter of a national ID card. But the Montana law stands out as the only one so far that bars state agencies from participating in Real ID, which passed Congress without floor debate, attached to a 2005 bill funding the war in Iraq and international aid after the Asian tsunami.

Legislatures in Idaho and Maine have passed nonbinding measures protesting the 2005 act. Arkansas lawmakers have approved one resolution calling for Congress to repeal the act and another that asks for civil-liberty protections and full funding to meet the estimated $14 billion cost to states. None of those measures carries the weight of law or required a governor’s signature.

Bills condemning Real ID have been approved by one chamber in another 13 legislatures and have been introduced in 12 more.

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Real ID requires that all new and existing driver’s license applicants present and states verify: a form of photo identification, a document showing date of birth, proof of a Social Security number and a document with the name and address of the applicant.

All state-issued driver’s licenses must include an individual’s name, address, date of birth, gender, signature, driver’s license number, a digital photograph and several features to prevent counterfeiting.

Driver’s license bureaus would feed information into databases to verify applicants’ identity, leading critics to worry about invasions of privacy and identify theft.

Cost also is a primary concern. State officials decry the act as a giant unfunded mandate. Congress has appropriated just $40 million for states to begin verifying and reissuing an estimated 245 million driver’s licenses and identification cards.

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The American Civil Liberties Union and the libertarian Cato Institute both oppose Real ID on the grounds that it will violate civil liberties.

“The states reserve the right to choose not to comply with Real ID,” said Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. But he noted that citizens in states without compliant licenses will not be able to use their licenses to board commercial flights or enter federal buildings.

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