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>New Mexico Joins the Fight to Beat The Chip

09/14/2009

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Federal law could nix using N.M. license to board plane

New Mexico and other states objecting to provisions of the federal Real ID Act hope a new version will have security guidelines that are easier to meet, at costs they can afford.

For now, though, New Mexico is among states that by Oct. 11 will seek an extension to comply with rules governing one of the most commonly used forms of government-issued identification: driver’s licenses.

If federal officials don’t grant an extension, state Department of Taxation and Revenue Secretary Rick Homans said, “you have to be compliant by January 2010 or they will not accept residents’ driver’s licenses from those states for airline travel.”

Passengers could still use alternative forms of government-issued identification for boarding a plane, such as a passport.

Thirty-three states oppose the plan, something Homans called “basically a state rebellion.”

“I just can’t see a way Real ID will be implemented because so many states have taken such a strong stand and won’t be bullied by the federal government on this,” Homans said last week. “I think Real ID is basically DOA.”

One of the main sticking points in New Mexico’s case is that the state issues driver’s licenses to foreign nationals. The Real ID Act, passed in 2005 as part of a broader effort to tighten security following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, requires proof of legal status in the country to get a driver’s license.

Homans said U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials recently visited the state to look at New Mexico’s procedures for issuing those licenses, including steps the Motor Vehicle Division takes to verify documents.

Since 2003, New Mexico has allowed immigrants to get driver’s licenses using a Mexican government-issued ID or a taxpayer identification number. The state, which has issued thousands of such licenses, recently stepped up document verification and works with Mexican officials to check authenticity.

Gov. Bill Richardson and others say roads are safer because immigrants learn about driving under U.S. laws. Others point out that immigrants with licenses are required to have proof of insurance, which has lowered the state’s uninsured driver rate.

Opponents have said the system is easy to foil, allowing noncitizens to get a government ID under false pretenses.

Like the Real ID Act, a new proposal known as the PASS ID Act contains a provision requiring proof of lawful status to get an approved ID.

Richardson “has reservations about both proposals and he does not plan on changing his position,” a spokesman said.

That means state officials will wait and see what, if anything, changes as the PASS ID Act develops, and what New Mexico will have to do to be compliant.

The new proposal’s title is shorthand for Providing Additional Security in States’ Identification Act of 2009.

A Senate committee has approved the bill, which would have to clear the full Senate and House.

Like New Mexico, other states that object to Real ID have complained about costs and privacy issues, among other things.

And New Mexico privacy advocates say the PASS ID Act isn’t much different from the first try at a national ID law.

“It really does most everything Real ID did,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU-New Mexico.

“It did nothing to stem the concern of privacy rights organizations that states wouldn’t incorporate radio-frequencies chips in the cards, so ultimately you’d have a situation where people’s data could be scanned from afar, that other data could be stored there, that people could illegally scan the data,” he said.

Simonson said he’s also concerned about other things included in the proposal, including giant databases of information that could be vulnerable to hacking.

The PASS ID Act also contains a provision that requires state laws to include provisions that employees who handle the documents a driver presents must complete training on fraudulent document recognition.

It also would help states with some of the upfront costs of complying with the mandates, unlike the Real ID, which Homans said would cost the state $12 million to implement, including equipment and software, and $1.5 million in recurring annual costs.

Totals costs to states would reach at least $11 billion over five years, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governors Association and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

A spokesman for the Air Transport Association in Washington, D.C., said the group doesn’t prefer one act over the other.

“We don’t have a preference from a security perspective. We rely on the Department of Homeland Security and the (Transportation Security Administration) to make the decisions that are in the best interest of the country,” said David Castelveter, vice president of communications.

He added: “We certainly do, in fact, want whatever those decisions are, as it relates to transportation, to be as seamless as possible to the passenger.”

Contact Kate Nash at 986-3036 or knash@sfnewmexican.com. Read her blog at www.greenchilechatter.com.

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