State Settles ACLU-NJ Lawsuit by Agreeing to Drop TRU-ID Program

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
October 5, 2012 3:59 pm

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NEWARK – The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) has agreed to drop its TRU-ID licensing program, bringing an end to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ). The program has been suspended since May when the ACLU-NJ convinced a judge to bring the program to a halt because it ran afoul of legal requirements for the state to inform members of the public of changes in policy that could affect them.

“I am thrilled to see implementation of the REAL ID Act toppled in New Jersey,” said Deborah Jacobs, the former ACLU-NJ executive director who served as an individual plaintiff in the case. “I hope the state’s attempts to implement the REAL ID Act are now over, and we can join the majority of the states in our nation that have rejected the federal law as overly invasive and expensive.”

The state has agreed to maintain its existing 6-Point license system, which has been in place since 2003. If the MVC decides to pursue TRU-ID again, it has agreed to go through the formal regulatory process and elicit public input.

“New Jersey law demands a transparent, democratic process that would give the public a chance to weigh in on a program such as TRU-ID that would adversely affect our privacy,” said Ed Barocas, acting executive director of the ACLU-NJ. “It’s disturbing to think how close New Jersey got to having such an intrusive ID system pushed onto us by mere fiat rather than through proper legal channels.”

The state has also agreed to pay the ACLU-NJ’s attorney fees and the ACLU-NJ reserves the right to challenge any regulations the state adopts in the future.

The ACLU-NJ alleged the MVC violated New Jersey’s Administrative Procedure Act, which dictates any new rule or regulation requires, at minimum, public notice and the chance for citizen review. The state released minimal information about TRU-ID before the planned implementation and sought no input from the public, legislators or stakeholders.

State officials said TRU-ID was conceived in order to comply with the federal Real ID Act, a 2005 policy that sought to create a national identification card. But at least 25 states have opted out of Real ID, with many of them passing legislation making it illegal for their state governments to participate.

The New Jersey program would have required citizens to turn over sensitive personal documents to the government, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards without any assurances from the government that the documents would be safely housed from identity thieves or other threats. Now, the state will continue to accept a range of documents as proof of identity, rather than limiting the list to only the most sensitive, as TRU-ID would have done.

In addition to privacy concerns, the ACLU-NJ feared the potential impact of TRU-ID on some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable communities with regard to civil rights and personal safety. The MVC’s attempt to require all documents, including birth certificates, be in English imposed a burden on anyone born in a non-English speaking country. It was also initially uncertain whether the state would make any exceptions for victims of domestic violence, who are currently allowed to use an alternate address for all state and local government purposes, rather than their actual home addresses to protect their safety.

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