Real ID Legislation a Real Nightmare to Implement, State Officials Report

January 12, 2006 12:00 am

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Documents Uncover Deep Concern About National ID Law Among DMVs Across Nation

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NEW YORK—Newly uncovered documents reveal that state officials believe that federal legislation called the Real ID Act will require extensive changes to existing practices at motor vehicles departments, will be extremely difficult to implement by the act’s deadline, and will carry heavy expenses.

The act, passed by Congress last spring, imposes a federal standard on the design, issuance and management of state driver’s licenses. The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the law as a backdoor attempt to require Americans to carry a de facto national ID card.

“This survey shows that going through with this plan to impose a national identity card in our sprawling, diverse nation is not only contrary to our values, but would prove to be a bureaucratic train wreck,” said Barry Steinhardt, director of the national ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project. “Real ID will mean higher taxes and fees, longer lines, repeat visits to the DMV, bureaucratic snafus, and, for a lot of people, the inability to obtain a license. To top it off, it will do little if anything to prevent terrorism; terrorists will continue to get drivers licenses, whether legitimately or through bribery and fraud.”

The survey, which was disclosed today in a report by the Associated Press, was conducted by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, apparently to take a sounding of the states’ challenges and readiness for tackling compliance with the federal Real ID mandate. AAMVA had not made the results public, but a copy was obtained by the AP. Copies of the survey results from each state, an AAMVA report summarizing the results and many other materials on the Real ID issue are also available at, a website recently created by the ACLU to help educate the public on the issue.

“Civil liberties groups, conservative groups, immigration groups – we’ve all been warning that Real ID will be a real disaster and needs to be revisited by Congress,” said ACLU Legislative Counsel Timothy Sparapani. “This time Congress needs to do it right and actually hold hearings, listen to all the different interests and real-world practical difficulties, and give it an up-or-down vote, none of which happened when it was rammed through last spring.”

In often scathing responses to the AAMVA questionnaire, officials from states large and small expressed deep concerns about the cost and feasibility of the many requirements that the Real ID legislation imposes. For example:

  • No state that responded to the survey seems to believe it is possible in the near future to link all the motor vehicle information databases between all states, as the statute requires. The Illinois DMV wrote that this task “would be a nightmare for all states. (Can we go home now??)”
  • Three in four states reacted with “medium” to “high” concern to Real ID’s extensive new document-verification requirements, which they said would involve major systems changes and increased hiring. And that response was based on the assumption that AAMVA or the federal government will build electronic systems for verification.
  • Many requirements that a layman might think are simple are considered quite complicated and expensive by the experts. For example, of those states that don’t already require the use of a full legal name on licenses, 70 percent reported that it would require “major reprogramming, training, legislation/major costs.”

“These documents confirm just how real the problems with Real ID are,” Steinhardt said. “They come straight from the horse’s mouth: the people who would be charged with actually putting the legislation into effect. DMVs are the ones complaining today, but if Congress doesn’t act, it will be citizens that we’ll all be hearing from next – and they will be hopping mad when they discover what’s in store.”

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