Lines are being drawn in the battle over what new standards will be put in place when the Real ID Act of 2005 goes into effect two years from now.
The law, a rider to a defense appropriations bill last year, calls for states to comply with national standards for drivers' licenses by May 2007. Key will be the requirement for a uniform "machine-readable technology" that will store the bearer's data.
Since the law does not specify which machine-readable system will be employed, the task of sorting out the different technologies available falls to the Department of Homeland Security, which is undertaking the rulemaking process this year. Many states currently use magnetic strips to store information on drivers' licenses, but these strips can rarely be read outside their jurisdictions. Real ID will require inter-state operability.
Civil libertarians, both conservative and liberal, are gathering forces to influence the debate. The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed the measure as well as the libertarian Cato Institute. Some religious fringe groups have gone as far as suggesting national identification cards could be "the mark of the beast" as prophesized in the Book of Revelations.
On the other side of the fence, the Coalition for Secure Drivers' Licenses is a stanch supporter of more stringent ID standards. The 9/11 commission also called for federal regulations in the issuance of birth certificates and driver's licenses.
Of major concern to the groups opposing the measure is the possible use of radio frequency identification (REID) chips, which contain small antennae that can be read by low frequency transceivers. DHS has already put in place requirements to install the chips in passports, and critics of the technology fear driver's licenses will be next.
A taxpayer watchdog group, Citizens Against Government Waste, has taken an aggressive stance...