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News Flash: Another Fake Deadline Ignored; Real ID Still Dead

Chris Calabrese,
Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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December 3, 2009

Real ID — the system to make state drivers licenses into national IDs — is full of melodramatic deadlines. Citizens of states who don’t comply aren’t supposed to be able to use their licenses to fly or enter a federal facility. Seemingly scary stuff for noncompliant states. The drafters of Real ID purposefully made it so; they knew that it was the only way to get states to swallow a program that heavily infringed on privacy and cost $24 billion (almost all of it state money!) to implement.

But as most folks know by now, that federal effort failed. States rebelled, and almost half passed statutes or resolutions saying that they would not participate in the program. Every state was supposed to be compliant by May of 2008; none of them were.

This left the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with an unpalatable choice. They could effectively shut down air travel in the U.S., or issue blanket exemptions to all 50 states. Guess which one they chose?

So DHS extended the compliance deadline to the end of 2009. Well, here we are at the end of 2009, states still aren’t planning to comply, but DHS has been trying to convince everyone that they really mean it this time and they are going to enforce the deadline.

You see, Secretary Napolitano is trying to push a Real ID-lite bill called PASS ID, which has almost all the privacy problems of Real ID but is cheaper for states to implement. She has been hoping to use the Real ID deadline to force Congress to pass PASS ID.

Well, it looks like key senators have called DHS’s bluff, and the agency has once again blinked. At a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday, Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) pushed Napolitano to commit to granting extensions to states. She refused to do so, but DHS later issued a statement admitting they would extend the deadline. Specifically “[s]hould Congress not act before it adjourns this year, DHS has planned for contingencies related to Real ID implementation, including extending the deadline as a last resort.”

Congress shouldn’t be in any rush to advance PASS ID and they certainly don’t have to worry about any phony deadlines.

You can let your elected officials know that you don’t like PASS ID any more than Real ID by taking action here.