“The Real ID Act is a federal law that requires states to meet minimum identification standards when issuing driver’s licenses. States have been given three years to comply with the federal mandate; the target trigger date is May 2008. To get a new license, motorists will be required to prove their name and date of birth, U.S. citizenship, Social Security number and residence. State officials will be required to check with the issuing agencies to make sure the documents are valid before giving the motorist a license.”
By STEVE WHITWORTH
Some say it will be the first step toward a national identification card. Others say it is necessary to ensure homeland security.
Whatever their views, state officials nationwide are gearing up to meet the requirements of the Real ID Act, signed into law May 11 by President Bush.
The Real ID Act is a federal law that requires states to meet minimum identification standards when issuing driver’s licenses. States have been given three years to comply with the federal mandate; the target trigger date is May 2008.
To get a new license, motorists will be required to prove their name and date of birth, U.S. citizenship, Social Security number and residence. State officials will be required to check with the issuing agencies to make sure the documents are valid before giving the motorist a license.
The new law is intended to fight identity fraud and make driver’s licenses throughout the nation more secure. Driver’s licenses from states that do not meet the federal standards by the deadline could not be used for federal purposes, such as boarding an airplane or entering certain federal buildings.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has appointed the inspector general of his office, Jim Burns, to oversee the state’s compliance with the law.
Burns has been traveling around the state to meet with members of the Illinois General Assembly, media representatives and other groups, trying to get the word out about what Real ID really means and will entail in the Land of Lincoln.
Last month, Burns visited the Metro East, meeting with several state lawmakers in Belleville. He also stopped in Alton, where he met with state Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton, at City Hall.
Burns told Beiser that he might begin getting calls from constituents concerned about the provisions of the Real ID Act.
“You’ll have people calling and saying, ‘I gotta do what?’” Burns said.
Burns also warned Beiser that White might have to ask the legislature for funding to help the state meet its obligations under the Real ID act if the federal government fails to provide enough money.
“Congress is still in the rules-making process, trying to figure out how to implement this,” Burns said.
Burns said the bill would standardize driver’s licenses nationwide in several respects — most notably, by requiring licenses to conform to certain requirements in order for their holders to take part in restricted activities, such as boarding commercial aircraft.
“And I have to believe that in the interest of national security, the list of restricted activities will grow over time,” Burns said.
The good news for Illinoisans, Burns said, is “coming in to get your driver’s license, you really don’t have to bring in much new. It’s not really going to be that much different than before.”
Illinois requires a Social Security number but not the card, proof of place of birth, such as a birth certificate, and proof of place of residence, Burns said, although he noted that the Real ID Act would require proof of “principal” residence.
“The Real ID Act applies to what you have to present when you apply for a license and what the license has to look like, what substantive information will be on the license,” he said. “That’s what will be standardized.”
“The card itself will have to be as counterfeit-proof as possible,” Burns said. “We’re capable of doing that now.”
Each state also will be required to have a facial recognition system, which Illinois has, that is capable of recognizing faces from digital photos and comparing them to photo records in a national database.
The snag for some Illinoisans will be providing their Social Security card, Burns said.
“I don’t know where my Social Security card is,” Beiser admitted. “What would I do?”
Illinoisans will have to show their Social Security card at the counter in the driver’s license office, so if they have lost their card, they will need to get a replacement. Employees at the counter will be able to verify the card’s authenticity, as they will be online with the Social Security System’s database.
Burns said the required documents would have to be produced when an Illinoisan applies for a new driver’s license or renews one. That way, the office can stagger the process over several years as Illinoisans’ licenses come up for renewal.
“It would be physically impossible if we had to do this by the trigger date of May 2008,” Burns said. “It would be impossible to do it all in one year, so we’re staggering it.”
One of the biggest complaints that state officials have voiced about the federal law is that they fear it will amount to an unfounded mandate if Congress fails to appropriate enough money for the states to carry out the changes necessary to comply with the new rules.
“Some of the numbers being discussed don’t sound sufficient,” Burns said. “The Senate is talking in the neighborhood of $100 million for all of the states. That gets divided up really fast.”