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Melissa Ngo
 Director, Identification and Surveillance Project  

Melissa Ngo Melissa Ngo is Senior Counsel and Director of EPIC's Identification and Surveillance Project. Her work focuses upon federal and state identification proposals, including the REAL ID Act and the US-VISIT program, and their impact on U.S. citizens and immigrant communities. Her work also includes Spotlight on Surveillance, a monthly evaluation of federal and state surveillance programs (such as camera surveillance systems, RFID or biometrics technology, and the federal watch lists) and their costs to civil liberties. She has testified about such programs before legislators and government agencies. She also works on the EPIC Open Government Project, which pursues Freedom of Information Act litigation. She is co-editor of Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws (FOIA) 2006. She previously worked as a journalist at and The Washington Post. She is a graduate of the University of Kansas and Georgetown University Law Center.

New Real I.D. Rules To Shut Down Nation's Airports in May?

By Ryan Singel EmailJanuary 11, 2008 | 4:42:20 PM
sam pullara May 11 this year, Georgia and Maine residents without passports may not be allowed into federal buildings and the lines at Hartsfield-Atlanta airport could stretch to Alabama, according to federal rules designed to morph state driver's licenses in a national identification card that were released Friday.

The Department of Homeland Security announced the final regulations Friday that implementing the Real ID act, legislation that requires states to standardize their driver's licenses, forces current license holders to re-apply with certified copies of birth certificates and marriage licenses, and penalizes states that don't comply by making their licenses unacceptable for federal purposes, such as entering Federal buildings. Without any hearings, the measure was slipped into a must-pass military spending bill in 2005 by Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

Eight states have already passed legislation opting out of the program, saying the costly program infringes on privacy and states rights. DHS originally estimated the cost of the program at $20 billion, but used creative math to slash that estimate by 73% today. Today's estimate said the change would cost states $3.8 billion, and individuals $5.8 billion. The federal government has only authorized $80 million in earmarked funds for the states, but says states can raid their state grant funds to get at another $280 million dollars.

Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff said the regulations would make the country safer.

"For about $8 per license, Real ID will give law enforcement and security officials a powerful advantage against falsified documents, and it will bring some peace of mind to citizens wanting to protect their identity from theft by a criminal or illegal alien," Chertoff said.

The regulations suggest the money is well spent since the licenses will prevent teen smoking and welfare cheating:

It will be more difficult to fraudulently obtain a legitimate license and more costly to create a false license, which could reduce identity theft, unqualified driving, and fraudulent activities facilitated by less secure drivers' licenses such as fraudulent access to government subsidies and welfare programs, illegal immigration, unlawful employment, unlawful access to firearms, voter fraud and possibly underage drinking and smoking.

What Chertoff didn't say is that Real ID will make every current license holder have to re-acquire certified breeder documents and go to the DMV in person -- possibly multiple times -- to get their Real ID.

Today's regulations also say the federal requirements go into effect on May, 11 2008, but that states can apply for a waiver letting them putting off production until 2010.

But what about states that ask for a waiver with no intention of actually implementing the requirements?

According to a DHS spokeswoman, no application for an extension will be accepted unless the state promises it is trying to comply.

The Transportation Security Administration's rules requires that an airline traveler show a valid government identification document or go through a pat-down and intense bag-screening process.

If by May, Georgia hasn't changed it mind and the feds don't blink, the nation's busiest airport -- Hartsfield-Atlanta airport -- will have security lines that last for hours. If a federal court house did not let a state resident get to his court date or prohibited someone from getting into a Social Security office, lawsuits and a storm of unflattering news stories will surely follow.

The ACLU's Barry Steinhardt says that's not going to happen.

"There is not going to be any real penalty. This is a bluff," Steinhardt said. "Are they really prepared to shut those airports down? We don't believe that is going to happen."

Instead the real takeaway from today's regulations is that DHS is pushing the implementation of all of this onto the next administration, according to Steinhardt, who noted the rules were supposed to be in effect in 2007 and now have been pushed to 2010, 2014 and 2017.

Tim Sparapani, the ACLU's legislative counsel, warned cash-strapped states to steer clear.

"DHS is trying to spin states in deep budget crises to participate in this," Sparapani said. "Our message to these states is don't spend a dime on implementing these regulations."

The regulations set standards for information sharing between states, detail what documents can and can't be used to get an identification card, require states to keep giant databases that include copies of breeder documents such as birth certificates and social security numbers.

The regulations are much more lax when it comes to rules about third parties such as bars or retailers from swiping and recording the mandated bar code. In fact, there are no rules. States must create privacy and security rules, but there's no standard that must be met.

Melissa Ngo, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, wonders if the plan isn't to require Real ID licenses to get employment, since Chertoff mentioned today that employers should be able to trust REAL IDs more than current licenses.

That also made her wonder about the rules for third parties to swipe licenses and store the information.

"The fact that DHS is touting that employers can use it means they are fine with third-person sharing," Ngo said.

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