First driver's license? After REAL ID is in place, it will take longer to process the ID card and cost more. The REAL ID program mandates the states to collect and verify birthdate, legal status, Social Security number and principal residence address before issuing a driver’s license or state ID. Most people use a driver’s license for daily access needs.

Is the REAL ID the real deal? In this time of terrorism and identity theft, you would think that Americans are ready for a more secure driver’s license, by far the most used identification document for access into buildings, airports and myriad business and financial services.

But among the alphabet soup of access card programs – from HSPD-12 and ePassports to TWIC, for example, the Department of Homeland Security’s REAL ID program has proved to be the most controversial, with numerous state governments and their departments of motor vehicles (DMV) threatening a Boston Tea Party over the federally-imposed requirements.


There is no doubt that both government identity programs in full swing and new identity programs for 2007 will be hot topics among government and industry leaders. It will be the talk of the Smart Card Alliance’s 6th Annual Smart Cards in Government Conference this month. “With large-scale government employee rollouts currently underway and new access and identification systems being debated at the federal and state level, this is a dynamically changing marketplace,” Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Alliance, told Security Magazine. “Now is an ideal time for leaders in government and industry to share experiences and lessons learned with the existing implementations, discuss opportunities and challenges ahead, and explore how we can apply this knowledge to newly proposed government identity projects.”

The REAL ID program mandates the states, which issue driver’s licenses as well as non-driver IDs, establish national standards including what data must be included on the card, what documentation must be presented before a card can be issued and how the states must share their driver’s licenses databases. The REAL ID Act also requires driver’s licenses to include a “common machine-readable technology.”

For some, REAL ID is the next step to a national ID card.

For many state DMV officials, it is an expensive and time-consuming imposition by the federal government, which will require the states to collect and prove genuine birthdate, legal status, Social Security number and principal residence address of people before issuing a driver’s license.


For Department of Homeland Security officials, it is essential. Some 9/11 terrorists, for example, were able to obtain driver’s licenses, which allowed them access to other, more sensitive areas.

Janice Kephart, former counsel to the 9/11 Commission and a nationally recognized border security expert, said that securing identities and identity documents is perhaps the single most effective measure the United States can take to lay a foundation for national and economic security and public safety. “Secure identity, particularly secure driver’s licenses, sets the nation on a path to differentiate terrorists, criminals and others bent on malfeasance from private citizens whose real life activities deserve real protection.”

States must comply with REAL ID by May 2008. A study by the National Governors Association, the National Council of State Legislatures and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators assessed the start-up costs of REAL ID at $1 billion. “While some states are quickly coming into compliance with REAL ID quietly, others are noisily objecting,” Kephart said. “The result is that the policy basis for REAL ID is being lost in the noise of much more minor issues that have solutions or are not germane,” she contended.

Some states are rebelling.

Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina is urging legislators to challenge the mandate. He stated that state residents would have to pay as much as $25 million to comply with its requirements, plus $11 million per year thereafter. Compliance would destroy efficiencies that the state’s DMV has created in recent years for driver’s license customers.

Many other state governors and DMVs agree, either loudly or softly. For example, in March, the Idaho Senate passed Joint Memorial 3, earlier approved unanimously by the House, to refuse implementation of the REAL ID Act.